October 27th, 2008 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

Gordon Smith's Latest Twists and Turns on Illegal Immigration

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The Hillsboro Argus editorial board recently endorsed U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) in his race against Democrat Jeff Merkley, speaker of the Oregon House.

The audio from the board's interview with the incumbent senator is online now at Oregonlive.com, and it contains a number of interesting statements from Smith on Mexican workers and illegal immigration.

In one instance, Smith applauds the Bracero program of the 1940s, saying of workers then: "If they came, they worked and they went home."

Here he discusses Smith Frozen Foods and WW's four-part investigation of the food-processing plant's hiring of undocumented workers:
And, for the record, my business, we employ upwards of 400 people. Every one of them has documentation. What happens is periodically one will come back that is, we can't verify.

My workers are unionized. And we work with the union to give them curative time to cure it. And if they can't, they are terminated. That happens a few times a year but we follow the law, and because we follow the law, we have never been fined, because we work hand-in-glove with the federal authorities on this.

This admission -- that his company has to fire workers "a few times a year" -- is new. In June 2007, Smith told conservative radio host Lars Larson his company did not employ any illegal immigrants. He then acknowledged, in that same interview, that several years earlier his company had had to fire "two" illegal immigrants who had slipped through. On Sept. 10, 2008, the day WW published Señor Smith, Smith revised the story he told Larson, acknowledging in this radio broadcast that the company had had to fire "a number" of illegal workers. Now it appears Smith is admitting they must do this every year.
My workers are paid a union wage. They have health care. They, in '86 when it became illegal to employ foreign workers, we have there isn't a plant in Oregon, a business in Oregon that's under more scrutiny than us.

Only year-round employees have health insurance through the company. But the bulk of Smith's employees are seasonal workers and are not offered health insurance through Smith Frozen Foods.
I have no incentive to in any way take advantage of this, but I also have an incentive not to violate people's civil rights and be sued if I mismanage this. Actually I don't manage it at all. I'm not allowed to manage my company. I don't hold any position in it. My wife's the Chairman of the Board but I have professional people that run the business and I'm not involved in it. But as a stockholder my wife and I tell them go the extra mile to get this right guys because we'll, you know, there's no malice of forethought in this on our part.

Smith seems to say he runs the company, which, if true, would violate Senate rules. He then asserts at great length he does not run the company.
But my final thought is, in this day of economic uncertainty, is it a bad thing to employee 400 people at family-wage jobs? Don't we need more of that, not less of that?

Many of Smith Frozen Foods' workers earn about $8 or $9 an hour. If a worker earning $9 an hour worked 40 hours a week all year, she would make an annual salary of $18,720. For a family of three, that salary is $1,000 above the federal poverty threshold.
Why should I be criminal, um, punished for what Americans need more of? I could have sold my business a long time ago, but I'm afraid of what will happen to that business if Del Monte buys it, closes it, what does that mean for growers, what does that mean for suppliers, what does that mean for employees, what does that mean for the tax base of Umatilla County?

Criminal?
We're the largest, one of the largest if not the largest taxpayer in Umatilla County. Is that a bad thing? This is, but, you know, I'm demonized for doing what America needs more of?

Actually, Smith Frozen Foods is the eighth biggest taxpayer in Umatilla County, paying less than Wal-Mart. But who's counting?

For more background on Smith Frozen Foods' hiring of undocumented workers, check out the rest of WW's investigation, including part one, part two, part three and part four.
 
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