ICE cracks down with workplace audits on Vermont dairies

November 20, 2009 10:37 AM
 

At least four Vermont dairies are among the 1,000 employers nationwide that have received notices this week from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that they will be audited over hiring practices.

 

The Associated Press (AP) reported this morning that four Vermont dairies were visited yesterday by federal immigration officials. (Read the story here)

 

"Vermont is on edge,” Robert Gray, executive director of the Council of Northeast Cooperatives, said today.

 

The audits involve a review of Form I-9s, which employers are required to complete and retain for each employee. The forms must show each employee's identity and work eligibility.

 

While it is not known why those four dairies were targeted, sources said the state's dairies are known for hiring a large number of foreign workers.

 

Under the subpoenas issued to the dairies, producers have 72 hours to turn their employee documents over to ICE, said Kelly Loftus, public information officer for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

 

The latest ICE crackdown follows an announcement yesterday by John Morton, the agency's assistant secretary. Morton said ICE has issued Notices of Inspection to 1,000 employers across the country to audit their hiring records to determine compliance with employment eligibility verification laws.

 

"ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces," said Morton. "We are increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules."  (Read the ICE news release here) 

 

The timing of the ICE visits is "unfortunate,” Loftus said.

 

"Dairies are in the worst financial crisis in our history,” she said. "We've talked with three of the visited dairies, and there is a very high level of anxiety and stress. We don't condone illegal activity, but the system is so difficult for farmers, who don't have a way to verify the documents they're given.”

 

It is not correct that up to 100 Vermont dairy farmers have been served with subpoenas seeking payroll records from November 2008 to November 2009, as reported in the AP article, added Loftus.

 

"That was some misinformation,” she said. "We know of only four dairies that have been visited by ICE. We have also heard from a Senate staff member that one or two additional dairies may be on the list as well.”

 

ICE says the 1,000 businesses were selected for inspection "as a result of investigative leads and intelligence.”  The names and locations of the business have not been released, although Vermont television station WCAX reported yesterday on dairy farmer Clement Gervais' experience earlier in the day with one of the ICE audit visits. See that report and accompanying video here.

 

Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at cmerlo@farmjournal.com.

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