Pacific Steel forced to lay off 200 workers

December 18, 2011 6:51:57 PM PST
Over the last few months, an East Bay steel company has been shedding about a third of its work force and it's not because of the economy. Pacific Steel was served with what immigrant advocates call a "silent raid." The company was audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to find out how many employees did not have proper work documents.

A spokesperson for Pacific Steel told ABC7 they have been able to slowly replace most of the employees they were forced to fire. Many of those employees have been with the company for years, even decades. Now, those employees are trying to figure out what to do after being let go.

A steaming bowl of posole and a table full of food are part of what should be a holiday celebration at St. Marks Catholic Church, but the event was a show of support for immigrant workers who have been fired by Pacific Steel.

"Kicking these workers to the curb just before Christmas is really an act of hostility," said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

Among those who have been fired, was Juan Zaragoza, who has been with pacific steel for 21 years. He said he was told he is no longer eligible to work at the company. David DeHerrera has been with Pacific Steel for 12 years and has two weeks to get his documents in order -- something he knows he cannot do. He says leaving the country is not an option.

"For us it's practically impossible to go back to Mexico because the situation in Mexico is not good," said DeHerrera.

DeHerrera has three children who were born in the U.S. He says they are the major reason why he will stay in the Bay Area.

His 14-year-old daughter worries about having to leave. She said, "I've never actually been in Mexico, I've only been there when I was a baby, so I have no memories whatsoever. I'm not sure how it's going to be over there."

A spokesperson for Pacific Steel said they followed all the rules when it comes to hiring workers, but these new audits pushed the company into a tough spot.

"We feel very sad for the employees that we had to terminate, and it was not the company's choice to do that," said Elisabeth Jewel from Pacific Steel.

During the audit, ICE agents inspect the company's payroll documents to see if employees' information matches with valid social security numbers. At Pacific Steel, 200 employees were flagged or fired.

ICE told ABC7 that they do not comment on specific audits, especially since they say there are no criminal charges or any penalties sought here. They did say how often they carry out this strategy of so-called "silent raids." Across the country so far, they have carried out more than 2,500 and they have sought criminal charges against more than 200 employers and managers.

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