Immigration Crackdown - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

01/07/08 - East Texas

Immigration Crackdown

by Donna McCollum

An undercover sting operation targeting an illegal worker network led to the arrest of 21 Pilgrim's Pride employees at the company's Mt. Pleasant and Pittsburg facilities. Three others who didn't work for the nation's largest chicken producer were also arrested. The arrests came following an undercover operation conducted last month by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice). Pilgrim's Pride has fired the individuals and cooperating fully in the investigation.

So far, there's no indication no wrongdoing occurred at the Lufkin and Nacogdoches plants. This doesn't surprise economic developers. Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation director, Judy McDonald said,  " Rick Sanchez, as human resource person, is very aware of what it takes to make the business work and make it work well."

According to the Associated Press, an affidavit by ICE says 14 of Pilgrim's Pride's human resources employees are suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.   Pilgrim's Pride states it continues to cooperate fully with the government's investigation, and no civil or criminal charges have been filed against the company.  

All of Pilgrim's Pride U.S. Locations, participate in E-Verify which determines employment eligibility for all new hires. However the pilot program under the Department of Homeland Security doesn't detect identity theft situations. This creates concern for employers shared McDonald.  " The larger companies are becoming the victims and the reason they are is because they're allowed to ask like three questions and if they ask a question beyond that they're sued."  

Similar crackdowns happened ten years ago for Tyson. Then in 2006, more than 1200 workers at meat packing plants were arrested.

Employment agencies report fewer Hispanics are applying for Pilgrim Pride jobs. Likewise,  Texas Workforce Solution reports few Hispanics are applying for employment through its services, even though the agency doesn't check for documentation. That is left up to the employer.  Only those individuals looking for jobs through the agency are counted in the monthly unemployment rates. Currently the rates are low, but most likely misleading.  Undocumented workers are reluctant to come into government agencies.  

McDonald said,  " I am concerned that our businesses are not going to have the workforce that it's going to take over the next ten years in order to continue to produce goods at the same rate and at the same quality that we've had if something is not done about the immigration policy."    

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