December 14th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Some contradictions exposed regarding the Swift Processing Plant raids

As is usual, the best coverage of a news story doesn't happen the same day, it happens the next day when reporters actually have time to get their sources all lined up. So the first worthwhile coverage of Tuesday's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, aka La Migra) raids on six Swift and Company meat-packing plants came Wednesday: Jennifer Talhelm, "Raids in 6 states may be largest ever," Associated Press, 12/13/06.

Now, give me a hand here? Help me reconcile the following statements, which seem completely incompatible with each other:

  1. "The raids at Swift & Co. plants across the country resulted in 1,282 arrests" and yet,
  2. "The company estimated a raid would remove up to 40 percent of its 13,000 workers" despite the fact that,
  3. "CEO Sam Rovit said the company has never knowingly hired illegal workers."

If the company has a policy of not hiring illegal workers, how did they come up with their estimate of 40%? If the company's own estimate is that there were 5200 illegal immigrants at those plants, how did the feds find fewer than 1300? How did the other 3900 skate? Does this have anything to do with the fact that obviously Swift knew about the raids a month in advance? And if Swift has a policy of not hiring illegals, why did they sue to stop the feds when they had a list of people that they already knew were guilty?

To put the backstory in a more rational order, what's going on here is that Swift has been sued, in the past, by legal Mexican-immigrant workers for discriminating against anybody with Spanish-sounding last names to avoid raids by La Migra. So having been forced to basically take people's word for it their documents are any good if they're good enough to pass a non-expert examination, to keep from getting sued by the other side, by the government for hiring illegal workers, they "volunteered" to be one of the test sites for the next-generation immigration check system, one that checks in real time whether the Social Security Number on the worker's card matches the name on the card.

Having caught a few illegal immigrants at random, the feds found out that some of the workers at Swift had found a way around the process: an ID theft ring was selling them forged Social Security cards with legitimate names and numbers on them, copied from stolen databases. (Welcome to the cyberpunk future.) And the current system doesn't check to see if the same person is employed in more than one place. Nor would it be trivial to do so, since there are circumstances where a worker might well actually be listed as an employee in not just more than one business, but (given that HQ might not be in their home city) in more than one state. Although if long distance phone companies have algorithms for spotting suspicious traffic, there's no reason why Social Security couldn't ... except that they're not allowed to. The law doesn't permit it. Which is among the real reasons, I'd bet, why they made sure to have a high-profile immigration raid involving forged IDs from an identity theft ring right at Christmas time when it would get maximum publicity; this is the SSA and ICE's way of lobbying Congress for a change to the law that will let them develop a next-generation system that does just that.