Sunday, September 27, 2020

Senator Gordon Smith's Most Well Kept Secret?

While Republican Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith publicly denounces undocumented immigrants, some question the legal status of those employed at his Oregon company…

Smith Frozen Foods in Weston, Oregon turns raw produce from the surrounding fields into ready-to-eat products. Smith Frozen Foods is owned by Gordon Smith, a United States senator from Oregon and the only Republican senator representing a West Coast state. Senator Smith has owned the plant his grandfather founded in 1919 for nearly 30 years his wife serves as the company’s chief economic officer. Senator Smith has made a reputation in Congress for being staunchly anti-immigrant.

According to Senator Smith:

“We cannot continue to absorb the flow of illegal immigrants, many of whom benefit from government services that American citizens and companies provide,” Smith wrote in a letter to constituents dated Jan. 31, 2007. “Reform is necessary, and our borders must be tightened. Anyone who wants to come to live or work in the United States must abide by our laws while paying taxes and learning the English language.”

The Portland Oregon publication, Willamette Weekly recently spent several days in Weston, and the nearby cities of Milton-Freewater and Walla Walla, Wash., where most of Smith’s employees live. WW spoke to dozens of current and former Smith workers, Latino advocates, court personnel, public defenders, educators, police administrators, church officials, social service agents and business owners and determined that some portion of Smith’s workforce comprises undocumented immigrants. Paul Apostolidis, a political science professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla who specializes in Latino affairs and labor studies, says that in the early 2000s, “according to what union organizers told me, there were plenty of undocumented workers at Smith. According to a May 23, 1988, memo from the U.S. Department of Justice obtained by WW, Bob Cortinas, who was then Smith’s personnel director, told federal investigators he was instructed by Smith’s legal department not to photocopy workers’ documents “so that it would make it harder for [immigration officials] to find errors.” The article cites countless anecdotes and testimony of individuals who claim they have knowledge that Smith Frozen Foods hires illegal immigrants. Jodi Lindquist, a manager of the Walla Walla Farm Labor Homes, a publicly supported housing development where some of Smith’s workers live says, “I can’t imagine that all of his employees are legal, historically, most of the employers around here don’t look too carefully at documents.”

On top of this there are also allegations that employees are not always treated in the best way. Lucia Avalos, 53, says she started working for Smith Frozen Foods in 1979 when she was an illegal immigrant, newly arrived from Michoacán, Mexico. She was fired after working there for nearly 25 years and expressed that workers at Smith, “are not treated like humans.”

On Aug. 14, Senator Smith told WW: “We need to support legal immigration and not incentivize illegal immigration.” A year earlier he said his company goes “the extra mile” to make sure it doesn’t hire any illegal immigrants. Yet Smith Frozen Foods president Kelly Brown appears less certain. Asked if the company employed illegal immigrants, Brown said: “I don’t know. It’s one of those things where we do the best we can do and we go forward.”

This revelation that may not be newsworthy around Weston, where most people interviewed knew, or assumed, that the agricultural processing plant hired illegal immigrants. But it can be newsworthy to voters since Senator Smith is currently in a bid for re-election in highly contested race. Senator Smith strongly opposed a bill that provided a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. It seems that while publicly he denounces illegal immigration he may be knowingly or unknowingly profiting from their labor.Senator Smith is the twelfth wealthiest member of the United States Senate and owns property in Utah, Hawaii, Maryland, and Oregon.

To add more irony to the situation, while Senator Smith clamors that immigrants must speak English, virtually all signs at Smith Frozen Foods read in English and Spanish

Willamette Weekly