Remember the outrage among illegal immigration advocates when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency raided several McDonald's outlets in Northern Nevada last fall? Perhaps it's time to take another look at the final outcome of those much-criticized raids now that the local McDonald's franchise owner has been fined $1 million for knowingly hiring "undocumented" (illegal) workers.
As it turned out Mack Associates, Inc., which operates 11 fast-food restaurants in Reno, Sparks and Fernley, pleaded guilty in federal court to felony conspiracy charges of aiding and encouraging illegal aliens to remain in the U.S. The corporation, owned by high-profile Reno businessman Luther Mack, was fined a million dollars and although Mack himself wasn't charged, two of his top executives pleaded guilty to immigration law violations and will be sentenced in October on charges that carry up to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000.
This was a wake-up call for Nevada businesses that knowingly hire and exploit illegal immigrants, many of whom earn less than minimum wage with no benefits. All too often unscrupulous employers pay illegals in cash off the payroll, a practice I've observed in my work as a part-time courtroom interpreter. I think those Mack Associates executives knew exactly what they were doing when they hired 58 undocumented workers, and so did their boss.
Even though a vast majority of Americans condemn illegal immigration and demand that the federal government emphasize border enforcement over so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" (stealth amnesty), too many businessmen approach immigration laws with a wink and a nod. But they talk a good game.
"Mack Associates has accepted responsibility and cooperated fully with the U.S. Department of Justice in its investigation of this matter," said Mack's attorney. "(We have) taken the necessary steps to ensure that these violations do not occur again." Luther Mack, who was a prominent member of Gov. Jim Gibbons' transition team, declined comment. In other words, lesson learned.
Greg Brower, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Nevada, said the Mack case should serve as a reminder to employers that "(those) who engage in such conduct are on notice that violations will be prosecuted and that criminal penalties can be significant."
Most local businessmen are well aware of ICE's belated crackdown on illegal immigration, and are responding accordingly. The owner of a Reno landscaping service said businessmen "need to be sure to cross every 't' and dot every 'i'" when hiring migrant workers. Many conscientious businessmen now require two pieces of valid ID from every job seeker. But Andres Gonzalez of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce told newsmen that ICE raids "can put a chill on business." Except that ICE agents are simply doing what we pay them to do, and what we want them to do " enforce our immigration laws.
RENO ILLEGALS DEPORTED
As for those 58 illegals detained at Mack's McDonald's franchises, most of them were deported back to their home countries while others were granted temporary permits allowing them to remain in the U.S. pending the outcome of the cases against them. Although most Americans applaud ICE raids against companies that are exploiting undocumented workers, a few huge agri-businesses continue to object to the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. In Postville, Iowa, last month illegal immigration advocates protested raids that resulted in the arrest of 400 illegals at Agriprocessors, Inc., the nation's largest kosher meat-packing plant.
Postville's mayor immediately blamed ICE for doing its job rather than the company that hired the illegal workers. "This raid did nothing for our community," he complained. "It ... caused our reputation to suffer clear across the country." But I think it would be easier if everyone just obeyed the law. Or am I missing something? And now, the Feds should file charges against Agriprocessors.
We can't have it both ways, demanding vigorous enforcement of our immigration laws and then complaining when local businesses are raided for knowingly hiring illegal workers, no matter who is involved. We can't grant exemptions to businessmen just because they contribute to election campaigns and hobnob with political insiders.
IRAQ: Contrary to what my good friend Bob Thomas wrote last Sunday, I have never advocated withdrawing American troops from Iraq on a publicly announced timetable. Instead, I favor serious, unpublicized withdrawal negotiations with the Iraqis, who want us out of there sooner rather than later, as do most Americans. Although the "surge" has worked and violence is way down in Iraq, this war cannot be won militarily. Ultimate victory requires political reconciliation between warring Sunnis and Shias, who have hated each other for centuries. No matter how much Bob longs for a made-in-USA solution in Iraq, that isn't going to happen. Which is why his costly (in American lives and taxpayer dollars) "stay the course" approach has been rejected in both countries.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.