Updated at 5:45 p.m. on January 20.
Tyson Foods, one of the country’s largest food processing companies, joined a voluntary Homeland Security Department program today to ensure that the people it hires are in the country legally. Tyson has at various times been at the center of immigration-related inquiries for hiring undocumented workers. The food processing industry in general is notorious for employing illegal workers, in part because the unpleasant nature of the work deters many Americans from applying.
DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also creating a new center with 15 additional auditors to conduct large-scale audits of the nation’s major employers like Tyson, which has already been through the review process. “Tyson has 100,000 employees in the United States. That’s a lot of forms. That’s a lot of records to verify,” said ICE Director John Morton. ICE already employs 137 full-time auditors to check the workforce status of various companies. The new auditors will focus on major investigations of the biggest U.S. companies, Morton said.
Morton said ICE audited 2,200 companies for compliance with immigration hiring laws last year, which is the largest number of audits the agency has ever conducted.
Morton will likely need to repeat those figures before members of Congress. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, has been critical of the administration’s efforts to enforce immigration laws at the worksite. Smith wants to make it mandatory for employers to enroll in DHS’s voluntary E-Verify program, in which companies check their new hires' legal status against Social Security Administration and DHS databases.
For certification in DHS's voluntary "Image" program, Tyson submitted to a review of all of its Form I-9 employment eligibility documents and cooperated with government field audits at selected plant locations. The company has been enrolled in E-Verify for more than a decade, and it has trained all of its employment managers on the hiring process. "Image"-certified firms receive free training on Form I-9, fraudulent document detection, and how to build a solid immigration compliance model. Tyson Senior Vice President Ken Kimbro said the company decided to join the program to enhance its ability to collaborate with federal enforcers on immigration policies.
This article appears in the January 21, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.