Willamette Week is saying it has proof that Sen. Gordon Smith's family-owned frozen food company has employed at least some illegal immigrants.
When the Portland alternative weekly came out Sept. 10 with a story about Smith Frozen Foods hiring illegals at its plant near Pendleton, Smith denounced it the same day as "a hit-piece hatchet-job slimeball," adding, "The policy of [his] company is to obey the law and document every worker."
But in yesterday's follow-up story, headlined "Señor Smith, Part Dos," Willy Week reporter Beth Slovic said she had talked to five workers "who are - or were - undocumented when they worked for Smith Frozen Foods or a second related business owned by Smith."
One of them, Tomás Salgado, said he had gotten a job at Smith Frozen Foods in 1982 without a green card and continued working there until 2005, when he was disabled by an injury. "When Salgado went to Smith's for a job in 1982 - while the multimillion-dollar business was under Smith's direct control - he had no papers permitting him to work in the United States, not even fake ones," Willamette Week wrote. "When he filled out his application to work for Smith Frozen Foods he simply made up a Social Security number, he says. What's more, so did his brother."
The paper reported that Salgado "drove with [Slovic] through Walla Walla [WA] and identified homes where undocumented workers now employed by Smith Frozen Foods live." Salgado "knew these workers were in this country illegally because they had confided in him.
"WW learned Salgado was right, because two of the Smith workers he pointed out confirmed their undocumented status in interviews with WW. One other worker did not deny it.
"Separately, WW spoke with a fifth undocumented immigrant who worked for more than a decade at Garrett Packing - a second business owned by the senator that supplements the shipping of Smith Frozen Foods vegetables from Eastern Oregon."
The paper said the workers were unwilling to be identified "for fear of losing their jobs or possibly facing deportation."
Smith's opponent, Jeff Merkley, promptly fired off a statement saying Smith "should come forward immediately to disclose information about his company's hiring process and the legal status of his workforce."
"If there was any doubt last week, then that doubt has now been put to rest," Merkley said. "Smith cannot hide from the hard evidence in this news report. The burden of proof now lies squarely with Gordon Smith. In Washington Senator Smith talks tough on illegal immigration, but in Oregon he turns a blind eye to violations at his company. Denials are not enough in the face of these serious allegations. It is time for action."
Will there be a "Señor Smith, Part Tres"? Stay tuned. Speaking personally, The Eye can't get terribly incensed about finding five undocumented workers in a workforce of about 500.
Meanwhile, a new poll released yesterday showed the Smith-Merkley race in a dead heat. The Portland Tribune/Fox 12 poll of registered voters, conducted by the Portland firm of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall Inc., has Smith ahead by only three points, 42% to 39% -- within the margin of error.
"Blistering TV ad attacks by both sides are driving down voters' positive views of Smith," the Portland Tribune said.