Hawaii: ICE arrests farmworkers

On July 20, ICE agents entered an apartment building in Waipahu, Hawaii, with nine federal search warrants. The agents arrested 43 men from Mexico who were allegedly working in Hawaii without legal status. The workers were employed by an agricultural business in Kunia called “The Farms.” ICE agents were assisted in the operation by the US Marshals Service, Sheriff’s Department-State of Hawaii and the US Coast Guard Investigative Service. Fifteen of the 43 arrested men were subsequently charged with federal felonies for having used fraudulent documents to gain employment. Assistant US Attorney Tracy Hino said the investigation was continuing to determine if any of the other 28 workers might be charged. All are being held at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. (KHON 2 News, Honolulu, July 22; AP, July 22; Honolulu Star Bulletin, Aug. 4)

Gary Singh, an attorney for one of the arrested men, said his client was recruited in California to work in Hawaii. Singh said the employer paid the airfare and arranged for housing at the Waipahu apartment complex, where eight men shared a two-bedroom apartment. Singh said his client worked 45 to 50 hours a week with no overtime, earning $9 an hour, with $98 deducted for rent from each two-week paycheck.

According to Hino, the investigation was triggered by the arrest of Miguel Gonzalez, another employee of The Farms, at Honolulu Airport on March 3 as he sought to board a Hawaiian Airlines flight to San Jose, California. A Transportation Security Administration agent noticed that his boarding pass had a different name from his green card, according to court documents. Investigators also found two pay stubs from The Farms Inc., court papers said. Gonzalez later pleaded guilty to using false documents to obtain work and was sentenced to time served. In April, agents asked The Farms to provide the I-9 forms for its employees, according to court papers. The company provided the documents in May. (HSB, Aug. 4)

Dean Okimoto of the Hawaii Farm Bureau said many local farmers have trouble finding workers to do hard farm labor at a price they can afford. (KHON 2 News, July 22)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 10

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Hawaii.