Federal immigration authorities fined Red Sox concessions vendor Aramark $50,000 last year for failing to show that many Aramark’s Fenway Park employees were legally authorized to work in the United States.
While details of the violations are confidential, the fine is by far the biggest levied by the federal government last year against a New England company, making it seem likely that illegal immigrants were working at Fenway Park.
Fenway Park isn't, of course, the only place where illegal immigrants may have access to jobs. A FOX Undercover investigation found illegal immigrants still have easy access to work at a time when the federal government's shifting attention away from workers and toward employers is getting mixed reviews.
At Legacy Place mall in Dedham, a FOX Undercover camera was rolling when admitted illegal immigrants confronted a drywall contractor whom they said hasn't paid them in weeks. FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet talked to the contractor.
“Why are you hiring undocumented workers?" Beaudet asked.
Interview with the Eva Millona of the Masachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
“I try and go and get all the information I can from these guys," drywall company owner Jared Stevens said.
“You don't care if they're undocumented?" Beaudet asked.
“I definitely care. But we all have a right to work," he replied.
Stevens claims the men made it onto the worksite through a subcontractor, who Stevens says he paid for the work. Legacy Place said their tenant doing construction, not mall management, who is in charge of hiring contractors.
One worker told Beaudet he is from Honduras and has been in the US for 9 years. Asked if he had papers to be in the US, he said, “No." “Is it tough to find work being undocumented or are there plenty of guys out here who are willing to hire you?" Beaudet asked.
“It's not difficult," replied the worker, who did not give his name.
Jessica Vaughan with the Center for Immigration Studies said it's still far too easy for employers to hire illegal immigrants.
“Essentially what happens is these workers pretend to be legal and the employers pretend to believe them. And that's how everybody is able to keep the system going. “It is easy for them to get away with it because there are no penalties. There's no deterents for them. In most cases, what they're facing is a slap on the wrist or a warning," she said.
Information from the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, shows that Aramark was one of just five New England companies fined last year. Others included several Burger King franchises, which were fined a total of $11,440, and a strip club in Maine that was fined $4,537.50. A spokesperson for Burger King did not respond to a request for comment.
The year before, just two companies were fined, including New Bedford tire recycler F & B Rubberized, which was fined $9,753. An owner of F&B did not return a phone message.
In all during the past four years, nine New England companies have been fined $222,293.50.
Meanwhile, the number of employees arrested has plummeted nationwide from 968 last year to 296, according to Congressional figures obtained by FOX Undercover. “Since 2009 our focus now is more on the employer rather than the employees," said Bruce Foucart, ICE Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New England. Asked if the federal government was doing enough, Foucart replied, “Really we're looking at a program that's really getting off the ground within the last two years." Still, he said employers in New England are hiring illegal workers.
“It exists out there and the bottom line with that is the employers are benefitting. They're benefitting if they have an illegal workforce," Foucart said.
A likely illegal workforce can be found most mornings in the open in front of a Home Depot in Boston. One man was seen getting into a van, which drove to a Belmont. The man who had been picked up outside the hardware superstore was seen working inside and outside the home. FOX Undercover talked to the contractor who picked him up.
“This is my friend. He's my friend,” replied the contractor, who wouldn’t identify himself.
“So he's in this country legally?” Beaudet asked.
“I don't know. He said he's legal,” replied the contractor, who also said he’s never seen the worker’s documentation.
We asked ICE’s Foucart about the scene in front of Home Depot. He said it was “absolutely” likely the people were illegal workers but said there was little ICE could do about them.
“With limited resources it really can't. It really can't be our focus, which again has to be on criminals and on national security threats and on the employer,” Foucart said. “It does seem like employers know they can get away with it?” Beaudet asked. “Employers are getting away with it obviously and given limited resources we're doing the best we can,” he replied.
The federal government's latest strategy of targeting employers has its supporters. The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition says arresting workers does little to stop illegal immigrants from working.
The Red Sox referred questions to its food vendor, Aramark.
FOX Undercover also asked Aramark about the fine and to say whether or not the company hired illegal immigrants. Their response was to a statement saying, “We are committed to complying with the law in all of our hiring practices. This relates to record keeping procedures in 2008, and our processes have since been enhanced."