Biggest US crackdown on illegal immigrants

DES MOINES, Iowa - After the biggest immigration raid in US history, hundreds of workers have been sentenced but not one company official as yet faces any charges - something critics say is typical of a federal government that is tough on employees but easy on owners.

Worker advocates and lawmakers said the fact that nearly 400 workers were arrested in the May 12 raid at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville - or more than one-third of the total number of employees - proves that company officials must have known they were hiring illegal immigrants.

"Until we enforce our immigration laws equally against both employers and employees who break the law, we will continue to have a problem with immigration," said US representative Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democrat whose district borders Postville.

Such raids are designed to get headlines and make it appear that the federal government is cracking down on illegal immigration, said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group America's Voice.

But he says even those who think enforcement is the answer cannot seriously believe the 12 million illegal immigrants in the US can be arrested and deported.

"Even if you wanted to pursue an imbalanced enforcement-first strategy, the only thoughtful way to do it would be to go after employers, make examples of them and try to scare other employers into compliance. "They're not doing that, he said." The owner of the Postville plant, Aaron Rubashkin, said the company was conducting its own investigation "into the circumstances which led to the recent work site enforcement action, and is fully cooperating with the government".

He said the company could not respond to specific allegations due to pending legal issues.

Court documents filed by an immigration and customs enforcement agent before the raid at the Postville plant indicate that authorities believed company supervisors were violating a number of federal laws including harbouring illegal immigrants.

An application and affidavit for a search warrant alleged that: "Based on 2007 fourth-quarter payroll reports, about 78percent of Agriprocessors' 968 workers were using false or fraudulent social security numbers in connection with their employment."

Agriprocessors was notified by the Social Security Administration in five separate letters of 500 social security number discrepancies for each tax year from 2000 to 2005.

A department of transportation investigation found that an Agriprocessors supervisor was forcing workers to buy cars from him and allegedly registered the cars under falsified identities. An investigator found at least 200 cars were bought in this manner. - Sapa-AP