A few days ago it was a headline about prison laborers building a Wal-Mart distribution center, now the spotlight is back on Wal-Mart for using more than 120 illegal workers, most of them from Mexico, to build a D.C. in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Federal immigration agents detained more than 120 workers at the construction site of a distribution center. The workers were employed by a subcontractor, and were held by officials on immigration violations, according to the Department of Homeland Security. As many as 50 federal immigration agents and U.S. Labor Department, Social Security Administration and state police, raided the Wal-Mart construction site, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Wal-Mart, which recently paid $11 million to settle a lawsuit brought by immigrant store-cleaning crews, told the media, “We have written contracts with these subcontractors requiring that they follow all applicable local, state and federal employment laws.” The case was cracked after local authorities began receiving complaints from local tradespeople. “You’ve got a situation here where illegal immigrants are coming into Schuylkill County and taking (local union workers’) jobs for eight bucks an hour. They are working for poverty wages, and creating unemployment because our skilled tradesmen are out of work,” one local official said. Two years ago, similar raids were conducted at 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states, which led to the arrests of 245 illegal workers. According to court papers released recently, senior Wal-Mart executives knew their cleaning contractors were hiring illegal immigrants.
Wal-Mart tries to distance itself from these illegal workers by invoking “plausible deniability.” The company releases statements like, “It is our understanding that the individuals taken into custody at the Pottsville distribution center construction site were employees of subcontractors and not Wal-Mart associates. Consistent with our corporate practice, we have written contracts with these subcontractors requiring that they follow all applicable local, state and federal employment laws. We will cooperate fully with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. attorney’s office in this matter.” In this way, Wal-Mart can continue to use illegal workers, and try to rise above each new revelation of illegal hirings by claiming, in effect, “it’s not us, it’s those nasty subcontractors.” For related stories, search Newsflash by “illegal.”