Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Illegal Immigrants

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Some Senate things just can't wait for Sunday, and this is one of them. As you are doubtless aware, it is illegal for any company in the United States to employ anyone who does not have a Social Security card or other legal paperwork (like a H-1B visa).

Certainly, people can debate immigration policy in America and agree or disagree, but the point is that today, you can't employ undocumented workers.

So, if you were a US Senator, you'd probably know that little bit of law. And if you and your family owned a company, which bore your name, you'd probably be especially sensitive to make sure things were all above board in this regard. Especially if you were a Republican running for re-election in 2008. And if someone accused you of something like breaking the law, you might respond:

“I have never had such a hit-piece hatchet-job slimeball done to me before in my 16 years in public life. The policy of that company is to obey the law and document every worker.”
Welcome to the world of Gordon Smith, Republican Senator from Oregon.

Last week, Willamette Week Online published "Senor Smith" explaining how Smith Frozen Foods employs undocumented workers, and has been doing so for decades. The quote above was Gordo's response.

This week, WW published "Senor Smith, Part Dos", including interviews WITH undocumented workers at Smith Frozen Foods.

WW returned to Eastern Oregon and Washington last week and found five workers who are—or were—undocumented when they worked for Smith Frozen Foods or a second related business owned by Smith, who’s running for re-election against Democrat Jeff Merkley in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races.

One of the five is Tomás Salgado, who speaks with experience when he says Smith Frozen Foods depends, in part, on the work of undocumented immigrants.

In March 1982, Salgado was 19 years old when he paid a smuggler $250 to sneak him across the U.S. border with Mexico. He soon moved to Walla Walla, about five miles from the Oregon border, and he’s lived there ever since. His first job was cutting asparagus. When that season ended, he picked onions.

In August 1982, Salgado says he started working at Smith Frozen Foods in Weston, Ore., because, unlike most other businesses that hired undocumented workers at the time, it promised nearly year-round employment.

He worked for Smith in Weston until December 2005 after suffering several debilitating injuries that impaired the hearing in his right ear and strength and flexibility in his back.

Records from Smith Frozen Foods’ private insurer, Salgado’s attorney and Oregon’s workers’ compensation division conflict whether Salgado’s injuries occurred at Smith Frozen Foods. But stacks of documents with the Smith Frozen Foods logo stored in a brown plastic suitcase at Salgado’s home do confirm he worked there. And scars that run along Salgado’s left elbow and left shoulder confirm the surgeries to treat his injuries.