Washington state’s Broetje Orchards, one of the biggest apple growers in the United States, has agreed to pay a fine of $2.25m for employing undocumented immigrants. This is one of the largest fines ever incurred by an agricultural concern, according to government officials.
With the immigration policy of the nation still in a state of flux, the Broetje case, which has continued for a number of years, highlights the uncertain situation many employers find themselves in. Since the beginning of 2009 the Obama administration has been conducting immigration audits of over 13,700 employers, primarily those in the construction, farming, hospitality and manufacturing industries. Firms have had to pay out fines in the tens of millions and sack thousands of employees.
“The Obama administration has eased up on enforcement for immigrant workers and their families, but not against employers,” notes ImmigrationWorks USA president Tamar Jacoby. “Audits haven’t stopped.” The civil penalty was levied against Broetje last week for employing almost 950 people who do not have legal permission to work in the United States, Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims.
Broetje has not admitted to any criminal wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement; however, it admits that the firm was found by auditors to still be employing undocumented immigrants, even after being advised of their unauthorized status. Broetje is Walla Walla County’s biggest employer, with over 1,000 permanent employees, and hires up to 2,800 people in the harvest season.