Thursday, August 03, 2006

Alert Alaska State Trooper Larry Erickson Tips Off Feds - 25 Illegal Aliens Arrested At Kenai Fish Processing Plant

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided a Kenai fish-processing plant last week and arrested 25 young Mexicans on tourist visas who were posing as legal workers and employed on the cannery's "slime line," federal officials said on Wednesday August 2nd, 2006. The Mexican nationals, all between 18 and 20, were flown to Seattle where they are being processed for deportation. Full story in the Anchorage Daily News.

Authorities were first alerted to the workers when an Alaska state trooper visited Snug Harbor Seafoods on July 18th looking for a automobile that had been in a single-vehicle accident, troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said. Wilkinson said that trooper Larry Erickson found the driver and passengers of the car and a dozen others camped out on plant grounds, which is where many cannery workers live for extended periods of time during the summer seasonal work. He asked to see their visa papers. The Mexicans showed the trooper their tourist visas and said they were just visiting.

Troopers notified federal authorities of their suspicions that the workers were illegally in the country. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents subsequently raided the plant on July 28th. Wilkinson said 23 Mexican nationals were arrested. Two others who fled into nearby woods were quickly apprehended. All were transported to Anchorage, where they were put on a flight to Seattle. Immigration officials did not know how long the workers had been in the United States.

Snug Harbor Seafoods owner Paul Dale said the young Mexicans showed up in person to apply for the jobs and told him they were college students in Mexico. They presented him with what he thought were legitimate residency papers that allowed them to work. They began work at the cannery, which employs about 150 workers, in June, Dale said. They processed salmon for $7.25 an hour on the slime line, where the fish are first brought in, gutted and filleted.

"They were good kids," Dale said of the workers. "We regret the incident." The Alaska seafood processing industry provides jobs for more than 19,000 people each year, not including jobs on fishing vessels, according to the state. "Getting enough process workers is a challenge," said Stephanie Madsen, vice president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association (PSPA). Workers, she said, come from around the world, and seafood processors work closely with federal immigration officials.

Lori Haley, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, western region, said, "There is illegal hiring going on in Alaska, as it is everywhere. Where there is work there's people who want jobs". Haley continued, "It's really a problem with fake documents. You know, employers aren't detectives. It's very easy to make false documents these days. You can just do it with a computer and a printer in your kitchen."

Analysis: Trooper Larry Erickson is to be commended for following his instincts and doing some good old-fashioned police work. Visitors on tourist visas do not normally camp out at industrial plants. However, luck was involved - it took a car accident to trigger the inquiry in the first place. However, many U.S. cities have declared themselves "Sanctuary Cities", forbidding their cops to even inquire into the residency status of a detainee. Any city declaring itself a "sanctuary city" should have all Federal funding immediately and indefinitely suspended until they bring their policy into compliance with the law.

The report implies the possibility that the tourist visas presented by the illegals may have been bogus, but does not confirm it. In any event, tourist visas do not entitle a foreign visitor to work in the United States. A separate and different visa for work is required, according to the Destination USA website:

To obtain a visitor visa (for tourism, medical treatment, and certain kinds of business activities), the process may be relatively simple. To obtain other types of visas, to study or work, for example, more forms and documentation will be required. Individual experience in obtaining a visa can therefore range from relatively fast and simple to relatively complex and time consuming.

The difficulties in finding workers for lower-paying, labor-intensive jobs like agriculture and seafood processing are very real and must be confronted, otherwise apologists for illegal immigrants will continue to prattle on about how illegals "do the jobs Americans are unwilling to do, yada, yada, yada". The PSPA website describes seafood processing jobs thusly:

The positions involve long hours and hard work, and many workers welcome both the training and opportunities for overtime pay. Many PSPA members provide round-trip transportation from the point of hire, as well as room and board. Workers are housed in a variety of comfortable, modern dormitories, and are provided with hearty meals along with laundry and housekeeping services. Retirement plans and health insurance are provided for many jobs.

Part of our commitment is education. Many PSPA members fund the A.W. "Winn" Brindle Memorial Scholarship Loan Program. Established in 1986 in memory of A.W. Brindle, president of Wards Cove Packing Company and former chairman of PSPA, the program provides educational loans for students interested in fisheries, seafood processing, food technology, or other related fields. Over $3.5 million has been contributed since its inception, with several hundred thousand dollars available for loans today.

However, the ability of PSPA employers to supplement $7.25 hourly wage with paid round-trip transportation and room and board can vary; they are not required to provide these amenities, and not all employers earn sufficient profits to do so. It would be interesting to find out why these workers were camping out on Snug Harbor's premises instead of living in more conventional housing.

One other source of seafood workers are college students looking to help pay for their education. With rising educational costs and competition for loans, grants, and scholarships tightening, more students will be seeking summer employment opportunities. The processors should consider marketing these jobs more vigorously to college students, and emphasize that the seemingly low wage is offset by overtime opportunities which increase the total compensation package. If we ask seafood processors to pay a higher hourly wage, the processors will end up passing the increased costs on to consumers.

Employers have the obligation to know the basic laws, understand the appropriate forms of documentation, and ask prospective employees to present such documentation. However, employers should not be held liable for failure to spot the increasingly more sophisticated forgeries appearing on the streets.

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  1. Hurray for the Alaska State Troopers!

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