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April 21, 2006
Immigration Takes A Turn Towards The Law

The roundup of over 1100 illegal immigrants working for a Houston pallet supply company signals the start of a new effort by the Department of Homeland Security to focus enforcement efforts on the companies that hire illegals. The managers of IFCO face up to ten years in prison after being arrested during the roundup for defying immigration and workplace laws against hiring illegals:

The apprehension on Wednesday of more than 1,100 illegal immigrants employed by a pallet supply company based in Houston, as well as the arrest of seven of its managers, represented the start of a more aggressive federal crackdown on employers, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.

Describing the hiring of millions of illegal workers, in some cases, as a form of organized crime, Mr. Chertoff said the government would try to combat the practice with techniques similar to those used to shut down the mob.

"We target those organizations, we use intelligence to define the scope of the organization, and then we use all of the tools we have — whether it's criminal enforcement or the immigration laws — to make sure we come down as hard as possible and break the back of those organizations," Mr. Chertoff said at a news conference. ...

In the action on Wednesday, federal officials detained 1,187 illegal immigrants working in 26 states for IFCO Systems North America, a subsidiary of a company based in the Netherlands that supplies plastic containers and wood pallets used to ship a variety of goods, from fruit to computers.

Of the 1,187 detained workers, 275 have already been deported to Mexico. The rest are being processed for deportation, although many may be released on bond.

Many already have been bailed out by relatives, but over a quarter of them have been deported and the rest will likely follow. Television news, including Nightline, showed tearful reunions along with the usual "they're not breaking our laws" soundbites from the activists working on their behalf. Of course this isn't true -- they broke the law when they entered our country illegally, and they broke the law again when they took work without proper documentation. Many of them have false documentation, and if they do, they've broken the law again.

Will this arrest stop people from immigrating illegally into the US? Not at all, but that wasn't the intent of the raids that DHS staged yesterday. For the first time in a while, the government has decided to enforce the laws against the employers, and in a big way. It exposed the complicity of employers in gaining those false documents; DHS had an undercover agent fulfill their request for forged paperwork that enabled IFCO to employ these illegals. Not that paperwork mattered much to IFCO, as over half of the Social Security numbers used by its employees turned out to be either completely invalid, assigned to someone else entirely, or belonged to dead people.

IFCO, apparently, has a lot in common with Chicago elections of old.

Last year, Wal-Mart paid a fine of $11 million for its employment of illegals, but this case looks different. The managers involved in the conspiracy to defraud the DHS have been charged with felonies, and if convicted they will face serious prison time. IFCO executives have so far avoided being charged, but that may change when the attorneys for these managers start playing Let's Make A Deal. With the extent of the fraud as deep as it appears at IFCO, it would be difficult to believe that company executives did not know about the illegals, if not ordered the managers to get it done.

By cracking down on the professional class that participates in the hiring of illegals, the DHS provides a powerful disincentive for others to pursue them. It will take a lot more than one raid and a few convictions to make the point, as even Michael Chertoff acknowledges. However, if a few more executives wind up in the dock facing a few years at Club Fed, the business community will get the message and rethink their fraudulent practices.

This does not preclude any particular resolution to the status of the illegals in this country. Even without work, they have a better life here in the US than in their countries of origin. It won't push them back across the border in large numbers. The new effort will make a resolution from Congress more urgent and perhaps renew the focus on border security and enforcement, now that the DHS has finally started to act as though it wants to enforce existing laws.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 21, 2006 6:25 AM

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