COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Greenville, S.C., poultry processing plant, Columbia Farms, Inc., and its affiliate companies with House of Raeford Farms, entered into a deferred prosecution and global settlement agreement with the federal government to resolve pending criminal charges, as well as any civil and administrative violations, regarding the companies' alleged hiring of undocumented workers.
The federal investigation into Columbia Farms' hiring practices began in December 2007, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents began reviewing the company's employment eligibility forms and supporting employment documentation for suspected violations of hiring undocumented workers and their continued employment. That review, and an October 2008 search of the Greenville plant, resulted in the criminal prosecution of 21 supervisory employees who were hired with false documents as well as the administrative deportation of more than 300 employees who were likewise determined to be in the country illegally.
The agreement was filed today in federal court, just before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the criminal trial against Columbia Farms and two of its employees, Elaine Crump and Barry Cronic, on federal charges related to the alleged hiring of undocumented workers at the Greenville plant.
"Today's announcement demonstrates ICE's sustained effort to hold companies and employers accountable for their hiring practices," said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton. "We are committed to bringing employers into compliance with the law and will leverage all of our authorities to achieve that goal. Although voluntary compliance is our preferred outcome, ICE will use enforcement tools, civil and criminal, when appropriate to bring about compliance."
Under the terms of the agreement, the criminal case against Columbia Farms will be continued for 24 months, allowing the company and its affiliates to continue with ongoing efforts to institute internal hiring procedures and controls at each of its eight poultry processing facilities in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Louisiana.
The companies will adopt and maintain a compliance program during the 24-month period to ensure that its hiring practices comport with federal law. The companies' efforts will be subject to review by the court, the U.S. Attorney's Office and ICE. The remedial actions called for by the agreement include:
- use of the Department of Homeland Security's "E-Verify" employment eligibility verification program for all hiring;
- use of Spanish language services for the completion of I-9's, Employee Eligibility Verification Form, by Spanish-speaking job applicants;
- use of the Social Security Number Verification Service to ensure that job applicants and current employees hold a validly-assigned social security number;
- providing regular training to employees on hiring practices to ensure compliance with federal law; and
- use of an external auditor to conduct annual reviews of the companies' I-9 employment forms.
In addition, the company will pay $1.5 million dollars to the government to settle all criminal, civil or administrative claims that are pending, or could be brought as a result of the investigation. Provided the company and its affiliates successfully comply with the terms of the agreement, the criminal charges against Columbia Farms will be dismissed.