BAKERSFIELD, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont dairy farmer who was among those targeted in a federal crackdown on undocumented workers says he thought three illegal workers had proper documentation.
Clement Gervais believes his family's farm has been cleared following the November inspection by immigration officials, but federal officials say four cases involving farms are still pending in Vermont.
The crackdown has shaken up dairy farmers, some of whom struggle to fill milking jobs and often rely on foreign farmworkers, who may have entered the country illegally. Many farmers are reluctant to talk about the issue publicly for fear of bringing trouble on themselves, and their workers are even more hesitant.
Gervais agreed to speak to The Associated Press after his case was closed, saying he hoped to help other dairy farmers and push for them to be allowed to hire workers under a temporary worker visa program.
Gervais Family Farms was inspected as part of a national effort the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in November to check the records of 1,000 employers around the country who were suspected of having hired illegal immigrants. Businesses that knowingly hired or continue to hire unauthorized workers could face fines or criminal charges.
ICE will likely release an update on these cases in coming months, spokeswoman Gillian Brigham said. In a similar audit announced in July, ICE reviewed more than 85,000 worker documents from more than 650 businesses, determined at least 14,000 were questionable and issued at least $2.3 million in fines, she said.
Gervais, 36, who owns the farm about 20 miles from the Canadian border with his three brothers and parents, said he wasn't fined or charged. He handed over employees' I-9 forms, which verify they can legally work in the U.S, and a copy of the payroll.
"We were prepared in the sense that we had I-9s on everybody," he said, adding that his wife, who does the bookkeeping, had taken several classes the state offered on documenting workers.
"The problem is the documentation they (workers) give you, you take it that it's truthful and accurate," he said. "You look at it, and unless you can see something that's obviously fraudulent about it, you've got to take it for what it is, which is what we did."
But after the visit by the inspector, three Hispanic workers left the farm. Seven, who are permanent residents, remain.
ICE inspects farms and businesses when it receives tips about illegal workers or when they are near or connected to important infrastructure and resources, such as food supplies, nuclear reactors, water treatment systems and transportation hubs, Brigham said. Gervais said he was told the selection was random and doesn't know why his farm was targeted.