OAKLAND -- Bay Area labor unions demanded Wednesday that the Obama administration stop its increased practice of auditing business payrolls to check for illegal immigrant workers.
Using Berkeley-based Pacific Steel and Casting as an example, leaders from several unions said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement is wreaking havoc with immigrant families and local economies by demanding that employers provide it information about its employees.
Known as I-9 audits, investigators check the legal status of employees through the Social Security numbers and green card information the employees supplied to the business when hired. In many cases of illegal immigrants, that documentation is forged and the I-9 audits can determine who at a workplace is living and working in the country illegally.
ICE drastically increased its use of I-9 audits in 2009 when 1,444 businesses were audited, almost tripling the number audited in 2008, the New York Times reported this week. In 2010, the government audited 2,196 businesses.
Although the audits, in many cases, do not lead to the deportation of a worker, they do force an employer to fire the worker, harming the company, the worker and the economy, labor leaders said.
"These are silent raids," said Oakland Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who also is the vice president of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics, and Allied Workers International Union. "We know that this country was built by immigrants. These workers should have some rights."
Even employers are not pleased with the audits; many have said they disrupt production and, in some cases, force out key workers who have become valuable to the organization.
"It's terribly disruptive," said Elisabeth Jewel, a spokeswoman for Pacific Steel and Casting. "We have highly trained employees and to lose them is very damaging."
Pacific Steel and Casting was first notified that it was to be audited in late February when ICE sent a letter seeking information on the steel foundry's 550 employees. The company complied but has yet to hear back from the government.
In the meantime, the Alameda County Labor Council began lobbying local politicians to object to the increase I-9 raids. The group successfully won resolutions from the Berkeley and Oakland city councils that condemn the audits.
De La Fuente said he expects that 100 to 200 employees at Pacific Steel could lose their jobs as a result of the audit.