Illegal workers in South Carolina

South Carolina has the fourth worst unemployment rate in the country. It also has one of the lowest education rates. Remember, too, that it is the state where Republican Governor Mark Sanford was and still may turn down all or part of the stimulus money. Add to that the huge problem created by the illegal workers taking the few jobs that would otherwise be available to the poorest workers and you have a major problem. According to the print edition of the Charlotte Observer, March 21, 2009, Page 1A, Chester County has a jobless rate of 19.6%. Although I am somewhat familiar with the state overall and knew that area was an area where jobs were hard to get, there are other areas where I saw, and still believe it may be higher.

Illegal immigrants say it’s easy to get a job at House of Raeford Farms.

Of 52 current and former Latino workers at House of Raeford who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally.

Company officials say they hire mostly Latino workers but don’t knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

But five current and former House of Raeford supervisors and human resource administrators, including two who were involved in hiring, said some of the company’s managers know they employ undocumented workers.

“If immigration came and looked at our files, they’d take half the plant,” said Caitlyn Davis, a former Greenville, S.C., plant human resources employee.

Former Greenville supervisors said the plant prefers undocumented workers because they are less likely to question working conditions for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.

In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.

It’s impossible that they aren’t taking American jobs.

Federal immigration law requires little of companies when checking applicants’ IDs. Employers don’t have to verify workers’ immigration status or check that their IDs are valid. Instead, companies must accept applicants’ documents if they “reasonably appear to be genuine.”Davis, the former Greenville human resources employee, said she was told not to examine actual IDs when hiring, but instead to copy the IDs, then review the black-and-white images. She said some Latino applicants provided discolored Permanent Resident Cards, but such flaws did not show up in the black-and-white copies.

“We knew for a fact that some of the IDs were fake,” said Davis, who worked at the plant for two years until this past summer.

If questioned by authorities, the company could show copies of the IDs, which appeared authentic, she said.

These employers and employees enabling the illegal activity need to be held accountable for their actions.

Former poultry worker Jose Lopez told the Observer he used fake documents to get work at the Greenville plant. He said family and friends from Guatemala told him that there were good-paying poultry jobs in the Carolinas, even for illegal immigrants who didn’t speak English.

In 2004, he paid a smuggler $3,000 to guide him on a two-week journey across the desert and into Arizona before catching a series of buses. He said $100 bought him a fake Permanent Resident Card and Social Security number, which he says he used to get his job.

Former union steward Joann Sullivan said the number of Latinos increased at the Greenville plant after House of Raeford bought it from Columbia Farms in 1998. She said Latinos replaced many of her African American colleagues.

“You were seeing Hispanics coming in and no blacks,” said Sullivan, an African American who worked at the plant for more than 20 years. Soon, she said, Hispanics were being promoted over blacks with more experience.

Some African Americans in neighborhoods near the plant said they came to believe blacks wouldn’t be hired there.

The work force change was no accident, said Belem Villegas, a former employment supervisor at the Greenville plant. She said a plant manager told her in 2001 to stop hiring African Americans.

~ by citizenjournalistreview on March 24, 2009.

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