Willy Week: Smith's Food Plant Hires Illegal Workers

Although details are sketchy, Willamette Week is reporting that Gordon Smith's frozen food plant near Pendleton has been employing illegal immigrants for years.

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Although details are sketchy, Willamette Week is reporting that Gordon Smith's frozen food plant near Pendleton has been employing illegal immigrants for years.


Smith Frozen Foods was founded by Gordon's grandfather in 1919 and has taken good care of the Smith family ever since.

"According to the Center for Responsive Politics," the Portland alternative weekly writes, "Smith is the 12th-richest member of the U.S. Senate, with an estimated net worth between $8 million and $39 million - wealth that's allowed him to buy a $3.5 million mansion in Bethesda, Md., property on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, a Park City, Utah, condominium and - more famously - four antique golf clubs worth $1.25 million.

"The workers at Smith Frozen Foods, who clean the machinery, monitor production and pack upward of 50 million pounds of produce each year, earn about $80 a day, four or five days a week, 10 months a year - if they're lucky.

"One other thing - some of them appear to be illegal immigrants."

WW says it bases that accusation on interviews with "dozens of current and former Smith workers, Latino advocates, court personnel, public defenders, educators, police administrators, church officials, social service agents and business owners" in Eastern Oregon and Washington

People interviewed by WW included a former employee, Liduvina Ibarra, who estimated that half of the roughly 500 workers at the Smith plant are illegal. Other workers put the estimate at one-third, Willamette Week said.

Frank Herrera, who runs a tax preparation service in Walla Walla, WA, told the paper that "in the past year he has helped more than five Smith employees who didn't have Social Security numbers file their tax returns."

Willamette Week says that "according to the workers themselves, roughly 85 percent of them are Latino," coming from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

As a senator Smith has taken a strong stand against illegal immigration, and has denied in the past that his plant knowingly employs any illegal immigrants.

On the Lars Larson Show Wednesday, Smith hit back hard at the Willamette Week story: "I've never had such a hit piece, hatchet job, slimeball done to me before in my 16 years in public life." The story, Smith said, was based on "hearsay, innuendo, supposition and racial profiling."

However, Oregonian political blogger Jeff Mapes reported that Larson later told him he thought Willy Week had "nailed [Smith] pretty well."

How much effect the accusations will have on the Senate campaign is unclear. "It's a little hard to figure out," former Oregon Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts, a Republican, told politickeror.com. "It's hard for me to believe that real hard-core anti-immigration folks will vote for [Smith's Democratic opponent] Jeff Merkley."

"Roberts said that the news could certainly hurt Smith with the extremes of the Republican Party," politickeror.com continued, "but after touting his centrist record and running campaign commercials featuring John Kerry and Barack Obama, Roberts said the extreme of the party was already angry with Smith anyway."

"That's been a problem [Smith has] had all along, and it's the risk you take when you take a moderate track," Roberts said. "If Senator Smith had been one of those raving anti-immigration people like Tom Tancredo, then it might be an issue."

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