Almost two dozen more workers were arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service during the latest in a series of raids on eastern Idaho potato packing plants.
Since last Wednesday, agents have rounded up at least 106 people suspected of working in the area without legal work documents, said Randolph Robinson, assistant director of investigations for the service’s Helena, Mont., office.
The raids have left employers throughout the region scrambling to fill jobs as the packing season draws to a close.
Steve Leavitt, supervisor at Circle Valley Produce in Idaho Falls, lost 23 of 65 workers in Monday’s raid. Fifteen others did not show up at the plant, probably because news of the raids made workers stay home, Leavitt said.
“I think it’s kind of a downer for the economy and the community,” he said.
The latest arrests raised the number of undocumented workers arrested across southern Idaho this year to over 400 - more than 240 in the eastern part of the state alone. By comparison, only 400 were arrested in raids on businesses in all of southern Idaho and Montana from October 1995 through September 1996.
The crackdown follows calls by the Clinton administration to get tough on illegal workers, and a growing enforcement budget. Robinson attributed the focus on eastern Idaho to aggressive investigations by local Immigration and Naturalization Service agents.
“We’re trying to free up some of those jobs for people who are authorized to work,” Robinson said.
No local businesses have been cited this year for knowingly employing an illegal worker, a charge which can carry a $2,000 fine. In each case, officials said, businesses had documents, albeit forged.
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