news: Vidalia arrest site stuns INS officials

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Subject: news: Vidalia arrest site stuns INS officials
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Mon Apr 19 1999 - 10:35:33 EDT

Vidalia arrest site stuns INS officials
By Jingle Davis
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 16, 1999

Four juveniles were among 27 illegal aliens from Mexico arrested in Vidalia
this week in housing so squalid that even veteran immigration officials
were shocked. The illegal aliens were among thousands of workers pouring
into Georgia as this year's harvest of famed Vidalia onions begins.

"One of the boys was only 14," said Thomas Fischer, district director of
the Immigration and Nationalization Service in Atlanta. "He and the others
were waiting to go out into the onion fields."

Fischer said illegal labor contractors, called coyotes, smuggle
undocumented workers and children into the country and then exploit them
with low pay and wretched housing. They are no better than slave traders,
he said.

"Coyotes are the lowest form of life in the United States," Fischer said.
"They profit from the movement of illegal workers and treat them like slaves."

Bart Szafnicki, Fischer's head investigator, said conditions were "awful"
in the three Vidalia houses where the arrests took place Wednesday. The
raid was a part of the agency's ongoing investigation of illegal labor in
the onion fields, he said.

"The smell of urine was so strong that I had to go out every 10 minutes for
a breath of fresh air," he said. "There were roaches everywhere and exposed
wiring. Exploitation like that is just criminal."

The aliens will be deported, he said.

The harvest of the Vidalia onion crop, worth up to $90 million, has just
begun and should be in full swing in about two weeks. An estimated 4,000 to
5,000 temporary workers are needed for the six- to eight-week-long harvest.

In years past, few Vidalia growers have hired temporary foreign help
through legal channels; instead, they use bilingual labor contractors who
frequently supply them with undocumented labor.

But because of INS raids on the onion fields last year, which caused
thousands of legal and illegal workers to abandon the harvest and leave
onions rotting in the fields, many more farmers are following federal
hiring guidelines than ever before.

"More than 1,000 employees this year are coming in under the H2-A temporary
agricultural program," Fischer said. "Last year, there were only 50, and
the year before that, none."

Onion farmer R.T. Stanley, who heads the Vidalia Onion Business Council,
told The Associated Press he thinks the INS staged this week's raid early
in the harvest as a warning to growers.

"Maybe they're just sending a message that they're not putting up with any
illegals," he said.

Melanie Orhant

Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590

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