Pacific Steel to undergo employment eligibility audits

The Pacific Steel Casting Company faces an audit to verify the employment eligibility of its workers.
Jeff Totten/File
The Pacific Steel Casting Company faces an audit to verify the employment eligibility of its workers.

The Berkeley-based Pacific Steel Casting Company will be subject to an audit to verify the employment eligibility of its workers, raising concerns about the termination or deportation of any illegal immigrant workers employed by the company.

Pacific Steel will be participating in an employment eligibility audit by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. The audit seeks to verify the employment eligibility of employees through the evaluation of Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9s that employees submit.

The company is the fourth-largest existing steel foundry in the nation, employing a diverse group of workers belonging to approximately 30 different nationalities, according to the company’s website.

Pacific Steel spokesperson Elisabeth Jewell said the company is currently preparing the documents necessary for the audit.

According to Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, these audits can drastically affect workers’ livelihood, since income earners can become unemployed, hurting especially the low-income families who will be unable to pay rent. He added that Pacific Steel and businesses dependent on it could also suffer large revenue losses, resulting in a ripple effect.

“These individuals are an integral part of our community, and Berkeley needs to send a message that this shouldn’t happen in our borders,” Arreguin said. “We should fight for workers and their jobs from being attacked by the audit.”

In order to deter illegal employment and to remain in compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 — which punishes employers for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers such as illegal immigrants — the Department of Homeland Security implemented this immigration enforcement strategy in April 2009 following a recommendation from President Barack Obama.

ICE penalizes employers for hiring unauthorized workers, shifting the focus to apprehending the employer rather than interrogating the employee.

“Unfortunately, deportation is higher under Obama than it was under (former president George W.) Bush,” Arreguin said.

During the audit process, ICE issues a notice of inspection to businesses, which are selected by special agents in charge at local immigration enforcement offices. Employers have three days to produce a form for every active employee, along with those who have been terminated within the past 12 months.

At the time of their employment, workers submit a Form I-9, which the ICE checks during these audits for any inaccuracies or incompletion. If there is a problem with an employee’s documents, the employer is notified and is expected to ask the worker to provide documentation to correct the discrepancy. If the worker is unable to do so, the employer can no longer legally employ the worker.

Arreguin said this process puts more of a focus on undocumented workers, some of whom have been working in the country for long periods of time.

“These audits are part of a broader trend,” Arreguin said. “The Homeland Security Department’s focus on undocumented workers is a sad reality for people that have been working for a decade or more and whose kids go to schools in the area.”

Berkeley resident Toni Stein said being terminated would be detrimental to city employees.

“This is a social responsibility issue,” Stein said. “Good work is very important in this economic downturn.”

If an employment discrepancy is found, different notices are issued after the inspection depending on the severity of the situation and, employers who continue to employ unauthorized workers may be fined, according to ICE documentation.

There have been 1,000 I-9 inspection notices issued nationwide for 2011, according to a statement from ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. There were 142 notices of intent to fine in 2009, compared to the 32 notices in 2008, resulting in $15.8 million and $2.3 million being collected in fines, respectively.

“I’m outraged that this is happening in Berkeley — it is a sanctuary city,” Arreguin said. “People should work regardless of their immigration status.”