Undocumented immigration is a hot-button topic today and immigration authorities have been cracking down on undocumented workers, most recently resulting in the dismissal of 41 employees at Apalachicola’s Leavins Seafood. According to the owners of Leavins Seafood, the employers were not able to comply with requirements to provide valid documentation for the 41 Hispanic workers when asked to do so, leading to the termination.
The company has been owned by Grady and Alice Leavins for four decades. The Leavinses called a meeting to tell workers about the situation and to express their regret about the issue. Grady and Alice Leavins told workers at the meeting that the workers could continue to live in the community and that immigration officials were focusing on the employer for lack of compliance, not on the employees. Grady Leavins praised the workers and said that they were like family to the company.
Leavins Seafood in Apalachicola will remain open but will import more product from out of state and will operate with a smaller staff. Leavins Seafood is an oyster plan and is a major employer in the community. However, Leavins says that he has trouble finding local workers willing to work as shukers at the plant.
Leavins Seafood in Apalachicola was first investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in winter of 2011, when authorities wanted to look at employment records for the company’s workers. Questions were raised about I-9 compliance. According to the attorney hired by the first, the company did ask employees for proof of employment authorization but in some cases the documents appeared to be real but have come into question since. The attorney stated that the I-9 form is more complex than it appears and while the Leavinses believed in good faith that they were hiring workers eligible to work in the US, this turned out to possibly not be the case. The Leavins staff has since been given training in correct I-9 completion an in I-9 compliance to avoid having the issue repeat itself.
The Leavinses are fully cooperating with Ice authorities and so far there is no word about any penalties. There also seems to be no plans to launch any proceedings against the workers. The workers who have been dismissed have community support and some are considering finding work elsewhere or are considering returning home. A local church is also assisting the workers and their families as the situation unfolds.