Yesterday federal officials raided six Swift meat processing plants in the U.S., including one in Hyrum, Utah, arresting hundreds of illegal aliens that had obtained employment using falsified and/or stolen documents (see SL Trib, Des News, Logan Herald). While many have clamored for this type of action, its effect is obviously causing some second thoughts in some circles.
In light of very poor enforcement, there have been loud calls for punishing businesses that hire illegals. It appears that the feds are now doing that. Swift has suspended operations at the raided plants. It’s not clear whether Swift will face any kind of civil or criminal prosecution. It would be easy for them to argue that they had appropriate documentation for all of their workers and that federal regulations prevent them from raising residency or citizenship questions once documentation has been provided.
However, it is far easier to penalize the workers that obtained employment through widely used, but fraudulent means. Some that have called loudly for raids on offending businesses are now crying foul. Somehow they seem to think that the illegal workers should get off Scot free. Many of the stories in the MSM also decry the feds as Grinches for performing the raid just days before Christmas (as if we want the government to stop all enforcement operations during the month of December).
The main crux of the punish-the-evil-employer theory is that illegals are merely pawns in a corrupt system, so they bear little responsibility for their actions. Employers, on the other hand, are assumed to be far more culpable, being much higher up the chain of corruption. The theory assumes that stanching the supply of jobs for illegals by punishing offending employers will result in a lower supply of illegals coming across the border to get jobs. Supporters of this type of action include employers (that presumably hire no illegals) that claim that they can’t compete with employers that reduce their labor costs by hiring illegals.
Yet others argue that both the employers and the illegal workers are simply responding to market pressures, and are, therefore, not fully culpable for their actions. Some in this camp feel that borders are inherently immoral and/or that it is immoral to keep people from coming here that simply want to work and improve their lives and the lives of their families.
Our society, however, is also founded on the principle of personal responsibility. Our history shows that we do not like the perception of institutionalized corruption and that we are willing to take stark, but measured actions to combat it when it gets bad enough. However, we tend to hold individuals accountable for their actions and decisions. We are also a fairly forgiving society when individuals are penitent and/or there are mitigating circumstances surrounding a person’s unfavorable actions. But we tend to apply the punishment first and then consider mercy later unless the individual enjoys broad public sympathy up front.
We should crack down on employers that hire illegals. But that does not mean that we should excuse illegals that work for them. Enforcement must cut both ways.
Also, it is important to recognize that some of our own regulations that are intended to prevent discrimination actually provide cover for the employers. If Swift is charged, the case will be very difficult to prosecute, because Swift will likely be able to argue that it fully complied with government regulations.
This is likely to be the case, even if it is suggested that Swift encouraged falsified documentation via a wink and nod hiring process. To successfully prosecute employers, we would have to change our regulations, which would be construed as encouraging discrimination. It does not appear that anyone is willing to do that right now. Perhaps Swift will use stricter hiring practices when it begins operating its plant again, but there’s no guarantee of that.
Swift will suffer economically for hiring illegals, but it will likely not suffer legally thanks to existing regulations. Swift’s illegal workers, on the other hand, will suffer both economically and legally.