Impersonating OSHA

by Henry on July 12, 2005

“Jordan Barab”: writes about a quite appalling story at Nathan Newman’s blog today.

bq. Last week federal immigration officials took into custody dozens of undocumented workers from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Ukraine at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. How did they lure them into the trap? None of your business, says the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “We’re not going to discuss how we do our business,” Sue Brown, an immigration and customs spokeswoman in Atlanta, said last Thursday.

bq. However, Allen McNeely, head of the state Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health division, said the workers were lured into the arrest by a flier announcing a mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration meeting.

bq. McNeely said one of the contractors who employed the immigrants faxed him a copy of the flier. It is printed in English and Spanish. It tells all contract workers to attend an OSHA briefing at the base theater and promises free coffee and doughnuts. … “Federal immigration officials say they have the right to round up illegal immigrants in any manner they see fit — even if it means impersonating Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials.”

Jennifer Gordon wrote an “article”: a few months ago which explains exactly how badly undocumented workers are screwed under the existing system of workplace safety regulation. They rarely know their rights, are reluctant to complain about abuses for fear of deportation, and as a result are killed or maimed far more frequently in workplace accidents than they should be. This utterly, utterly shameful operation will make undocumented workers even less likely to contact OSHA about workplace safety than in the past – and as a result will lead to more cripplings and deaths.

Update: See also this “NYT story”:

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Crooked Timber » » Follow-up
07.18.05 at 11:20 am



corbetti 07.12.05 at 8:52 pm

Umm, not to be pedantic, but aren’t they here illegally? They broke the law coming into the country, so why should the government be cast as the bad guy for trying to throw them back out?

My parents went through the immigration process and made it to America the hard way. Why should illegals get special dispensation?


nick 07.12.05 at 9:20 pm

My parents went through the immigration process and made it to America the hard way.

And knowing the US immigration process, I suspect that there might have been at least some brief periods when they were ‘out of status’…


mrjauk 07.12.05 at 9:26 pm

My parents went through the immigration process and made it to America the hard way.

No, they were lucky because they happened to make the decision to come to America at a time when, as a result of the decisions your parents had nothing to do with, the immigration policy was more lenient.
So, in fact your parents made it into America the easy way, not the hard way.


mrjauk 07.12.05 at 9:27 pm

Oops! Only the first part of my post above should be in italics.


Matt Weiner 07.12.05 at 9:48 pm

corbetti–Suppose that illegal immigrants were subject to felonious assault at higher rates than citizens. (Note that assaulting an illegal immigrant is still a crime that we have good reason to want to prevent.) Suppose then that there was a bilingual flyer telling people who’d been assaulted to come to the new precinct house. Suppose that any illegal immigrant who came to the precinct house was then arrested and deported.

This would make illegal immigrants much more reluctant to report assault or deal with the police at all, don’t you think? And wouldn’t that be a bad thing, if we don’t want illegal immigrants to be assaulted with impunity?

Similarly, there are those of us who think even illegal immigrants shouldn’t be killed and maimed in workplace accidents because their occupational safety rights have been violated. For that purpose, it’s good for them to be able to complain to OSHA without fear of deportation.

Note that making undocumented workers less likely to complain to OSHA may not be something that contractors are too upset about, though it does appear that it was a contractor who blew the whistle to OSHA.


Matt 07.12.05 at 9:56 pm

Along the lines articulated by Matt W above- for a long time it was conventional wisdom that normal law enforcement officers should not ask about immigration status and didn’t enforce immigration laws. The idea, perfectly reasonable, was that if they did it would be impossible to ever get illegal immigrants (and many legal ones) to cooperate with the police, and that this was a worse problem than having some illegal immigrants. This policy is, at least, under heavy strain the last few years, for better or worse. But, it doesn’t seem like any of the factors that might tell for having the regular police enforce immigration laws tell in favor of the sort of policy discussed above. So, it seems pretty clear that this program is an over-all loser, and even one who thinks that immigration laws should be strongly enforced or who favors our current laws (I don’t) should be able to agree with it w/o.


Joe Welsh 07.12.05 at 10:01 pm

Appalling???? Sometimes you folks here just amaze me. What’s next? Cops who can’t lie undercover? Sure, that is appalling too using that standard.

By golly, drug dealers should be able to trust their inner circle so as not to enhance an increased sense of paranoia and isolation more so then they already experience. So to encourage bonding amongst those engaged in illegal activity, no fibbing by the fuzz undercover right?

How about we just deport illegal aliens who are here illegally. Seems to be that if we did that enough it would encourage LEGAL immigration rather than illegal immigration.


Gene O'Grady 07.12.05 at 10:33 pm

Matt Weiner’s example may not be all that hypothetical. I remember a case my late father told me about in which one of his colleagues was presiding over a case involving a rather brutal group kidnap/rape. The defense attorney moved that the case be dismissed on the grounds that the victim was an illegal alien. Much to his credit the presiding judge called a recess to get his temper under control and after some minutes in his chambers walked back into court and denied the motion with a warning not to try anything like that again. (This took place in California something like twenty-five years ago.)


rollo 07.12.05 at 11:20 pm

Goldsboro is a city located in Wayne County, North Carolina. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 39,043.
Wayne County is a county located in the state of North Carolina. As of 2000, the population is 113,329.
“…federal immigration officials took into custody dozens of undocumented workers from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Ukraine at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina…”
The article Barab cites says it was 4 dozen, or roughly fifty workers. Who showed up for the coffee and doughnuts.
There’s already a lot of fear present in the labor underground, so it’s more than likely quite a few of those who were presented with the fliers didn’t go.
And it’s certain that the fliers weren’t saturation-broadcast to the entire undocumented worker community.
So we can extrapolate a population of undocumented workers in Goldsboro and Wayne County far in excess of the fifty who were arrested. In a relatively sparsely-populated rural area.
A large enough population to be economically significant, whatever their visa/green card status.
The inability of the US, both publicly and legislatively, to confront the realities of unlimited and ethically heedless economic growth and equally exploitative labor practices, because of what those realities make inevitable, is what’s wrong here.
In an economy and a society where nearly everyone’s domestic budget is red-lining nearly all the time, and where getting things as cheaply as possible regardless of any larger consequence is always seen as winning, it’s inevitable that illegal immigrants will be hired and worked, hard and long, for as cheap a wage as the market will bear.
The only reason slavery is not overtly a part of the American economy is that it’s been outlawed.
But it isn’t the law that made slavery morally repugnant, it was just as immoral when it was legal.
Laws are not sacred, the things they protect are. Or more accurately, are supposed to be.


albert 07.12.05 at 11:39 pm

I’d like to thank joe welsh for equating the desire to protect illegal immigrants from being “killed and maimed in workplace accidents because their occupational safety rights have been violated” with encouraging bonding amongst drug dealers.

I knew before I read these comments that someone would try to take a reasonable desire to protect people’s well-being from illegal activity and make it sound outrageous. Thank you for being that person joe. Please read #5 again. If you don’t get it, repeat until you can constructively comment.

As for corbetti- why do people who want to crack down on illegal immigrants always make it sound like ‘if they’d just fill out the damn paperwork we’d welcome them with wine and roses.’

For the record, my family came here legally too, but considering their slave-owning and Indian killing I’d prefer to have forefathers that were illegal.


Sebastian Holsclaw 07.12.05 at 11:40 pm

“Laws are not sacred, the things they protect are. Or more accurately, are supposed to be.”

Immigration laws I don’t presume?


rollo 07.13.05 at 1:22 am

Presume or not, what are the immigration laws designed to protect, exactly? Things as they are?
Might be still, if not yet?
I’m not naive enough to suggest we open the borders, or that the INS doesn’t have a difficult job.
What I’m saying is that here, like most everywhere else moral symptoms arise, the problem is much greater than the symptom, and the search for quick easy answers generally heads straight for reduction of the immediate manifestation. Because addressing the problem is going to require a system-wide change at fundamental levels.
The same twitching after comfort and preservation of the status quo ante is rampant in addicts and hedonists individually as well, when the result of their indulgence begins to impact their sense of well-being.
Illegal immigration isn’t the problem, fixating on it as though it is is the easiest place to hide from the problem.


Alex R 07.13.05 at 5:55 am

Let me make an obvious point here: if you want to see that immigration laws aren enforced, and to reduce the number of illegal immigrants, you should do everything you can to ensure that it costs employers as much or more to hire them than it does to hire legal workers.

If illegal immigrants are discouraged from seeking redress for workplace health and safety violations, low-end employers will *prefer* illegal workers, because they can avoid the costs of keeping a safe workplace. Shouldn’t those who want to see immigration laws enforced also want to reduce the incentives for employers to hire illegals?


corbetti 07.13.05 at 6:09 am


i’m sorry to hear that you feel responsible or guilty for your ancestors sins (slavery or indian-killing, I take it?).

Just to clarify two points: one, my parents left a war-torn country in the 60s to immigrate to the US, only to find that all of my father’s training and credentials had to be RE-EARNED because they were from a foreign country (he is a doctor). This, with two kids and a wife in tow and two more kids (the last being me) born shortly thereafter in the US. And a family left behind in Asia that they did not talk to for years because international calls weren’t cheap nor easy to make for a poor immigrant family. So no, they most certainly did NOT have it easy.

Second – i am not advocating that illegals be abused, marginalised, or anything else you all seem to equate with my position made at the beginning. BUT THEY ARE HERE ILLEGALLY. So, actually, by deporting them our government is also “protecting” them from our criminal elements in the US. Why is that bad?

The reality is that, ever since the country started providing a social safety net through government funded support programs (and it’s not just in America – virtually all western governments do this now), the doors to the “tired, poor, huddled masses” have been slammed shut. Because it COSTS MONEY to let them come here. In the old days of immigration, you only came if you had the wit, the community network, or the guts to try it – but there was not the government medicare/medicaid/foodstamps/housing/etc net there is today.

You could always just eliminate all those programs and throw open the borders and see what happens, but in our post-9/11 bogeyman world, that just ain’t gonna happen.


Jeremy Osner 07.13.05 at 7:29 am

Ah for the good old days.


Antoni Jaume 07.13.05 at 8:00 am

Shorter corbetti,: I’m in. Close the door..



nolo 07.13.05 at 8:52 am

All moral issues aside, Alex makes a point that the corbettis, et al., on this thread ought to consider. After all, if you really want to discourage illegal immigration, making it more attractive to hire illegals isn’t the way to do it.


RVD 07.13.05 at 11:48 am

The real core question here is whether the US is to be seen as an identifiable, political intentity with fixed borders, a core civic culture with a distinct history worth preverving on the basis that it created something very worthwhile–or is this Nation really just a geographical area of the planet, undefined by borders, whose only reason for existance is to provide a place where anyone can come, willy-nilly, to make money.


engels 07.13.05 at 1:01 pm

My parents went through the immigration process and made it to America the hard way.

Ah, yes, the Argument from I-Made-It-The-Hard-Way: the swiss-army knife of right-wing platitudes.


radek 07.13.05 at 1:03 pm


“Because it COSTS MONEY to let them come here”.

It doesn’t. Or at the very least it’s a wash. Illegal immigrants pay sale taxes, sometimes even income taxes, and work for cheap. They very very rarely seek to collect money through ‘social safety net programs’ (welfare and social security) partly because an attempt to do so runs a risk of getting busted and deported. Pretty much every serious study finds that illegal immigrants are a net benefit to natives – as the ‘lumberjack’ in an old SNL sketch says; ‘you got strong shoulders? We could use you.’ In the case of US very few, if any, immigrants come here looking for free handouts, (which, rightly or wrongly, even for natives are sparse) but instead seek honest work. The case could be different for Europe where free government money may be easier to come by. I don’t know though so someone else should comment on that.

This isn’t to say that the illegal (and many legal too) immigrants cannot have a negative impact on the economic well being of some groups within the native US population – particularly those whose skill they can substitute well for, and whose desire for a ‘fair wage’ they more than undercut. But the notion that it costs money for them to be here is just plain wrong. In fact if it weren’t for some of the more idiotic rules the net benefit to natives would be larger – as the example provided above well illustrates as is you often wind up with highly qualified doctors, professors, engineers working as agricultural laborers and wasting their hard earned skils.


abb1 07.13.05 at 2:13 pm

Maybe it doesn’t cost money directly, but it sure tears some serious social and economic fabric, no question about that.


corbetti 07.13.05 at 2:51 pm

[i]Ah, yes, the Argument from I-Made-It-The-Hard-Way: the swiss-army knife of right-wing platitudes.[/i]

Ahh… you’ve been reduced to this type of argument? Sad.

I don’t need to be “in”, though – i was born in the US so I thankfully have the right to be taxed for the rest of my life to pay for these stupid programs, even though i’ve moved overseas to get away from the Republic of Jesusland.


engels 07.13.05 at 3:21 pm

Ahh… you’ve been reduced to this type of argument? Sad.

Corbetti – The fact that one person, ie. you, was in fact able to “make it” “the hard way” is indeed a worthless reason for ignoring the injustices faced by others. If you wish to try to defend this line of argument, be my guest.


corbetti 07.13.05 at 4:32 pm

engels –

you call it an injustice that the people who are in the US illegally – let me repeat that, since you seem to have lost sight of that important little point – ILLEGALLY – are being tricked into revealing their presence so they can be thrown back out.

Cry me a river.



clew 07.13.05 at 5:01 pm

13 is a lovely point.

Corbetti, while you’re all righteous (shocked! shocked!) about the lawbreaking inherent in being an illegal immigrant, have the decency to also be horrified at the lawbreaking OSHA is trying to stop, which includes toxins, rapes, detached body parts. And OSHA is usually chasing the rich connected people in town, not the poorest ones; OSHA needs even more help than Immigration does.


corbetti 07.13.05 at 6:28 pm


while you may choose to get smarmy by calling me righteous for pointing out that the law was broken by the illegal immigrants in their initial coming to the US, I prefer to not be selective in which laws we should apply. Yes, the companies should also be penalised and pursued when they are hiring illegals – but using the existence of one crime going uncaught to claim others who are breaking laws should also not be pursued is childish and silly.


Jeremy Leader 07.13.05 at 8:01 pm

Maybe what we need is an “amnesty for whistleblowers” program. That is, the *first* illegal immigrant to turn in a particular employer for blatant OSHA violations (or any other sort of illegallity over some threshold) should be put on the fast track to citizenship. After all, the employers are BREAKING THE LAW, and the cost of allowing one immigrant into the country is pretty minor compared to busting a LAWBREAKER.

After all, no measure is too extreme to punish those who violate the law, right?


engels 07.13.05 at 9:53 pm

No, corbetti, I call it an injustice that illegal immigrants

rarely know their rights, are reluctant to complain about abuses for fear of deportation, and as a result are killed or maimed far more frequently in workplace accidents than they should be

You are indeed a tragic case.


corbetti 07.14.05 at 2:33 am

thanks, engels. i wasn’t sure i was a tragic case until you cleared it up for me. funny how most of you who have disagrred with my points have had to repeatedly resort to name calling. and i thought only right wing bible thumpers did that.


engels 07.14.05 at 7:23 am

Corbetti. It is amusing that you are tough enough to tell me, sarcastically, to “cry me a river” over the excess deaths and injuries of illegal immigrants, yet are deeply hurt when I refer to you as a “tragic case”.


alex 07.14.05 at 2:02 pm

So, Corbetti, should you ever be the victim of a crime, and one of the prosecution’s witnesses is an illegal immigrant, should he or she be deported after the trial or before?

I’m exaggerating to make the point, but this is why police don’t want to be immigration agents: their job is actual crime. If you’d like them to spend all their time, effort, and money deporting gardeners and meatpackers, that’s your call. If you can’t see the difference between a gardener and car thief, well…

The law enforcement problem here is that the penalties for hiring illegals are virtually nil. Remember the big Tyson’s case? Tyson’s managed to pin the blame on two managers while saving millions in payroll–bargain for them. Until we get serious about punishing employers, we are going to have lots and lots of illegals.

Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, what with the Congress we currently have.


corbetti 07.14.05 at 3:46 pm

engels – i cite a specific case of you devolving to name calling, and in response the best you can come up with is the nebulous group of hurt illegals? your logic would make Limbaugh proud. Since you refuse to deal with the debate at hand, i have no more time to waste on you.


corbetti 07.14.05 at 3:50 pm


i agree (and have stated above, if anyone were actually to pay attention) that the employers should be pursued and prosecuted. AS WELL. That companies choose to break the law should not give the individuals who break the law – by illegally entering this country – a free pass. If they are caught, they get sent home. Period.

Your extreme example is just that – an extreme example. It reminds me of the old routine by George Carlin about question and answer day at the old Catholic school – where the kids would take a very simple sin and then wrap it in the most bizarre circumstances to see if it were still a sin or if they could confuse the priest. Are you really asking that all illegal immigrants just be allowed to stay here and live peacefullly because a few of them might be valuable informants or witnesseses in criminal cases? Then why don’t we just do another blanket amnesty such as the one in the 1980s (in California, I believe)? Because of course no one ELSE illegally crossed the borders after that.


clew 07.14.05 at 5:17 pm

Corbetti, you’re ignoring the balance of the problem – that *one* entrapment by Immigration has set back probably *hundreds* of investigations by OSHA. I’m not saying illegal immigrants shoudn’t be pursued; I’m saying it seriously reduces the overall effectiveness of law enforcement to pursue them in this particular way.


corbetti 07.14.05 at 6:04 pm


no i’m not. One entrapment by immigration was them doing their job. OSHA can’t use the “immigration ruined it for us” excuse for not pursuing violations.

If the only violations that are occuring are against illegal aliens, then perhaps (a) it will be a deterrent for future illegals coming to America if they know that they won’t be safe, or (b) more vigorous pursuit of illegals will reduce the law-breaking by corporations because they won’t have anyone to hire.

More importantly, note the use of “probably” in your statement – in other words, you don’t KNOW, and you don’t have any PROOF, but that doesn’t stop you from using bold-type to emphasize your point (even if it is unsubstantiated). Again, what I would expect from the right wing, but surprised to find it here. Perhaps the neocon right and the liberal left aren’t so different after all…


engels 07.14.05 at 9:01 pm

Ok, Corbetti, whatever. Ciao!


The Lonewacko Blog 07.15.05 at 2:14 pm

It seems to have escaped everyone’s attention that these illegal aliens were working at an Air Force Base.

Let me repeat that: illegal aliens were working at a military base.

At least one of them was from the Ukraine.

And, every time that “liberals” oppose attempts to enforce our immigration laws, Bush and the companies that profit off illegal immigration smile.

Are you people useful idiots, or are you in on the take?

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