Washington State Fruit Grower Hit With $2.25 Million Immigration Fine

Article author: 
Article publisher: 
Article date: 
Thursday, June 4, 2015
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

Broetje Orchards of Washington, one of the country’s largest apple growers, has agreed to pay a $2.25 million fine for hiring illegal immigrants. The fine is one of the largest ever levied against an agricultural concern, according to government officials who announced it Thursday.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the civil penalty was levied against Broetje for employing nearly 950 people who weren’t authorized to work in the U.S...

“All businesses are expected to comply with the law and to ensure the information provided on a form I-9 (employment form) is accurate,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña.

...acknowledges auditors found that it continued to employ unauthorized workers after being advised by ICE those employees didn’t have permission to work in the U.S.

Broetje is the largest employer in Walla Walla County in Eastern Washington. It has more than 1,000 permanent employees and up to 2,800 during harvest season. Many of them live on the company’s vast grounds in Prescott, Wash., where the grower built housing, school and a day care center for workers.

When the concern first came under scrutiny years ago, it already had begun to train and employ low-skilled workers in the U.S. legally, many of them refugees from Africa and Asia. But its founders, Ralph and Cheryl Broetje, said in an interview at the time that agriculture suffered from a severe labor shortage and that they hoped an overhaul of the country’s immigration system would enable their business to retain experienced workers.

They declined to comment Thursday. But a statement attributed to company management said: “We are pleased to put this process behind us and to get back the business of growing fruit. It said the case ”highlights what is clearly a dysfunctional and broken immigration system.”