Berkeley City Council opposes federal audit of Pacific Steel

Berkeley City Council members voted unanimously at their June 28  meeting to adopt a resolution to dissuade the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from pursuing I-9 audits of the Berkeley-based Pacific Steel Casting Company.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the vote was a significant step in demonstrating Berkeley’s opposition to the audits, which he said would remove undocumented workers from their jobs, disrupting their lives and families and hurting the local economy which relies on companies like Pacific Steel.

The city reached out to members of the federal government — sending the resolution to the department and U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee — to make them aware of the support the resolution has and to encourage them not to follow through with the audits.

“(The audits) are also harmful to residents and businesses, and we don’t believe that they’re the best approach to dealing with immigration issues in our country,” Arreguin said.

Considering Berkeley’s status as a city of refuge — a city that provides services to all residents, regardless of their immigration status — Arreguin said the audits go against the idea of the city being a sanctuary.

“This violates our city policy about how we treat undocumented residents,” Arreguin said. “We believe they should be welcome to come into our community and work.”

According to Pacific Steel spokesperson Elisabeth Jewel, the department came to Pacific Steel in late February to conduct an audit and requested employees’ I-9 documents. Pacific Steel complied, gave them information on approximately 550 employees and is still waiting to hear back from the federal government.

“It’s a very difficult situation for everyone involved, but the company will obviously comply,” she said. “The employees know that, and the union is working hard to do whatever it can to protect their members.”

Despite these difficulties, Jewel added that the company is “very gratified to have the support of the city council and support for the companies and workers.”

Arreguin said one of the city’s main goals is to raise awareness regarding the audits’ impact on communities so that other cities might follow suit.

A similar item — to adopt a resolution urging the department not to solicit I-9 forms from the Pacific Steel in Berkeley and other companies — appears on the Oakland City Council July 5 agenda. Arreguin said he expects Hayward’s City Council to address the issue in weeks to come as well.

The audits, Arreguin said, are part of a bigger problem regarding the Obama administration’s immigration policies that pursue audits by asking employers to verify employee citizenship.

“Going after employers and making them immigration police is not a good policy, not when we have serious problems with the immigration system,” Arreguin said.

Janice Schroeder, a member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs who is working with Pacific Steel’s union to support employees, agreed that fixing the country’s immigration policies was one of their primary aims. However, she said the resolution lacked legal backing.

“The city doesn’t have any control over what (the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement) does, but I hope they can pressure ICE not to do this audit,” Schroeder said.