The Department of Homeland Security — stepping up its enforcement against employers who hire undocumented workers — may cost 71 Sacramento, Calif., nursery workers their jobs.
The workplace audit came during Matsuda's busiest season. After cold and heavy rains ruined March, the 130-acre wholesale nursery on Florin Road was finally starting to ship hundreds of thousands of pink, magenta and violet azaleas and other spring plants to markets throughout California.
Ten of the 71 workers have supplied new papers "and may be OK," said Matsuda's sales manager Tom Wing. "We told everybody to bring forward their documentation by Friday or you can't work here."
Though the 12- acre nursery's multimillion-dollar business is being hit hard by an action that could cost them half their workers, "the human toll is the real problem," said an emotional Wing. "Our company's heartsick we're losing members of our family. Some have been here as long as we have, 22 years or more. They're raising kids, buying homes and cars, paying taxes."
The workplace audit reflects the Obama administration's heightened emphasis on employers. In Northern California, 192 worksite enforcement cases were initiated in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. About $900,000 in fines have been levied on the region's employers during the Obama administration.
"Our goal in these cases is to determine whether a business is complying with the law," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The new focus reduces the need for large-scale enforcement actions where employees were rounded up and arrested.
"This administration has directed us to use all the enforcement tools at our disposal when we investigate these cases and one of these is an increased emphasis on the use of civil fines," said Kice. From 2008 through July 31, 2010, ICE levied more than $4 million in fines nationally and last year criminally charged a record 180 employers, managers or supervisors.
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