Saturday, January 13, 2007

Virtual Vigilantes

Not content to spend the entire day sitting in the hot sun in hopes of spotting a border-crosser or two, anti-immigrant vigilantes have turned to the internet as the newest weapon in their war against the undocumented. In the past two years, a growing number of websites have sprung up where ordinary citizens can report people they suspect of being undocumented or those who employ them. None is more controversial than, WeHireAliens.com, where people are encouraged to anonymously submit written information accusing businesses of hiring illegal workers, often naming specific employees as "illegal aliens".

The site, launched in February 2005 by a Riverside California man, requires no actual proof of illegal practices beyond the statements of its anonymous informants before it publishes the accusations along with addresses, phone numbers, and at times other personal information about the accused. WeHireAliens.com not only recommends that the businesses it lists be boycotted, but claims it forwards all the information about the businesses and suspected "illegal aliens" to ICE, the FBI and the Social Security Administration.

These practices have raised serious questions about privacy rights, libel and slander, and the legality of these kinds of anonymous public accusations.


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The site, that lists over 2,800 businesses in 47 states, now averages between 750,000 to 1 million hits a month, according to its founder, Jason Mrochek, Yet, Mrochek admits that he doesn't check or confirm accusations from contributors before posting or sending information to authorities.


Mrochek reviews the information to see if it seems credible. If he deems the accusations add up to what he calls "reasonable suspicion," he goes ahead and posts the company on a list of businesses to boycott and then forwards the information to ICE, the FBI and the Social Security Administration.Mrochek said he makes no effort to verify any submitted information, or notify companies, before posting accusations on his site.

He said, however, that he rejects about 50 percent of the claims, usually because the information is too vague. "We leave it up to (people who visit the Web site) to decide how compelling the information is," he said.

Mrochek said several businesses have threatened to sue him after their companies were posted on the site. But none has so far.

Arizona Republic


Reading through some of the postings on the site it becomes quite obvious that the veracity of many of the claims is highly questionable and Mrochek's bar for "reasonable suspicion" is set quite low. Many of the informant's posts seem to fall into a few easily recognized categories.

(all names have been changed, links are not provided as it would only aid in furthering slandering the accused)


THEY LOOK ILLEGAL TO ME

"I have been working in the area lately and have seen that the majority of workers entering the building thru the back,are hispanic. While I cannot state that 100% are illegals. It is a safe bet that most are."

"I am working in a Liquor store and when we get delivery from ACME,who distributes Budweiser beer.The delivery guy speaks very poor English"

"This company has been hired by our "homeowner's association"…. Illegals are in our yards every week mowing lawns, edging, and other lawn maintenance. I recently planted flowers and other plants, and was concerned about them being mowed over or destroyed. When I approached one of the employees while he was working in my yard, he could not speak one word of English. He had to get another person to talk to me. That person could hardly understand what I said either. After much pointing, they figured it out. I believe that the supervisor overseeing the job who sits at the truck the entire time is a legal citizen, but there is no way any of the others are."


RECENTLY FIRED EMPLOYEES

"I was recently terminated from this company to allow a mexican's brother come in and take my place! WHY? He will work for less!"

"My boyfriend got a job from John Doe at ACME last week. All his employees are Mexican.(Most of them are). Johnnie was pushed out of the job because one of the mexicans cousins came here recently from Mexico, and needed a job. So Johnnie was "let go" and was told that Juan's cousin did not require any training."


SOMEBODY TOLD ME

"I was working at ACME for a subcontractor on a construction project during the spring of 06. I was talking to some of the maintenance workers and they told me that they thought over 70% of the assembly workers where illegal workers."

"The plant where I work, ACME employs roughly 200 employees. I would guess 80% Mexicans Or Hispanic. One Legal mexican told my co workers in a conversation that only a few, maybe 6 to 10 were legal. All the rest were illegal and were going to march in protest in Atlanta on monday May 1st."


THE BOSS TOLD ME

"They employee maexicans only. Cause they are can pay less money. I hear the boss said this many times. I work there years in the past."

"He has told me that he employes many illegal mexicans.He was braging that he does not have to pay taxes or insurance. He pays them in cash."


I'M MAD AS HELL

"I was married to this fool. He hired illegal aliens from Mexico, they had fake social security numbers."

"They employed my husband and he was employed with an illegal SS card and an expired work authorization in June 2005. I went and sat down with the general manager and told them what he had done. Tampered with his SS card. … They treated me like I was a criminal and ask me not to come back on the property or call the buisness. This happened the day after I went in and reported him. I called the buisness to see if they had let him go. I was talked to very badly and my husband was committing adultrey with their Parts Dept Manager [Jane Doe] she is pictured on their website. My husband is John Doe…. His employer and the woman he was cohabitating with knew full well that he was married and that I was his sponsor! I was granted my divorce on March 6th 2006. I am willing to testify as to his tampering with his SS card and anything else I can to get him deported ASAP. …. INS knows ALL of this and have known all this since August 2005!!!! Apparantly he is appealing their decision …and I do not care what he has obtained since I reported this, maybe a temporary work permit, I have no idea … My husband as of August 2005 was NOT a permannet resident. I was his sponsor through marriage. When I signed on as his sponsor..we were told that IF he broke the law, he would be deported, IF I withdrew my sponsorship, which I did, he would have to leave...he reamins here. WHY???? I am ANGRY!! …My husband is BRITISH and I was very stupid and took me awhile and everything I had to realize that he was here for the good life and a GREEN CARD!!"

Quite obviously the site provides a means to vent frustrations, settle vendettas, express racism, and engage in gossip and hearsay.

Ultimately, it will come down to the question of whether this kind of virtual vigilantism is legal. Particularly in the cases where the names, addresses, and phone numbers of those suspected of being undocumented are posted along with the businesses they work for.


The site has raised a number of concerns. One is that disgruntled employees or competitors could use the site to tarnish the reputation of law-abiding businesses. Another is that assumptions about an employee's legal status based on race or ethnicity could lead to false accusations.

"The virtual vigilantism of this site encourages anonymous informants and the trafficking of whispered innuendo. That is not characteristic of a free society that values due process and the right to confront your accuser," said Farrell Quinlan, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman.

Indeed, some of the "evidence" that lands businesses on the site seems racially tinged, or stems from second- and third-hand sources. Phoenix employment lawyer Neil Alexander said the site could be considered slanderous.

"If you accuse somebody publicly of engaging in criminal activity you can potentially be liable for defamation or libel," Alexander said.

Arizona Republic

These practices have led to complaints from those who have been wrongly acussed.


In November someone who claimed to be a former employee of Glendale Welding Co. accused the steel tank manufacturer of hiring "illegals a day after they crossed the desert." Owner Bob Carlson was outraged when he found out his company was on the site.

"It's totally made up," Carlson said.

The accusation also angered Glendale resident Robert Juarez, 55, a 23-year veteran of the company. Juarez, who is Hispanic, was born in Texas. He said he resents when people assume Latinos are undocumented immigrants.

"I'm Hispanic, but I am not an illegal," Juarez said.

The company employees 22 welders, Carlson said. Half are Hispanic, but all but three were born in the U.S. Those born in Mexico have work visas, Carlson said. "It's like witch hunting," he said.

Arizona Republic

Often in the past we have seen societies where citizens are encouraged to inform on their neighbors, be the eyes and ears for the ruling party, or publicly denounce and accuse wrongdoers without providing substantial evidence. We saw it in Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and the Taliban's Afghanistan. Yet our own history is not without such instances. From the testimony of misguided young girls in Salem, to the outrages of Joseph McCarthy, we as a nation have on occasion succumb to the primal urge to dance around the fire and watch the witches burn, willingly suspending our belief in legal rights and protections in order to exorcise imagined demons.

1 comment:

mageen said...

My God! This reminds me way too much of the deal the Russian Communists had with school children to inform on their parents. One spanking from a guiltless parent could result in a kid telling the KGB their parents were closet anti-communists and mom and dad would be hauled off to a gulag or worse without a trial. This left behind an awful lot of kids who were sorry as hell but as orphans totally unable to hit the undo button in their lives.