Many of the Texas companies raided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service during a massive national roundup of illegal aliens last April called Project Jobs report they have had trouble finding U.S. citizens to fill the positions.
Representatives of these companies say that American citizens appear unwilling to work at these jobs, despite government claims to the contrary at the time of the raids.
According to an internal INS survey, many of these companies reported to INS in mid-May that they were experiencing considerable turnover among new workers hired to fill vacancies created by the raids. Others refused to tell INS whether they had replaced the apprehended workers with citizens or legal immigrants.
INS billed Project Jobs as an operation designed to remove illegal aliens from high-paying jobs that would be "attractive to unemployed workers" and reported during the raids that thousands of citizens had showed up to fill them.
But many of those applicants have since decided they did not like the jobs, some of which paid $3.50 to $4.50 an hour, and have quit.
Not all companies raided have had difficulty filling the vacancies, however. Such problems occur most often in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to the INS memo. Officials of companies in Los Angeles and Chicago reported to INS in May that they had successfully filled the openings with legal immigrants or U.S. citizens, and said this week their turnover rates were no greater than normal.
In addition, the raids have prompted some companies to alter their hiring practices to guard against giving jobs to undocumented workers.
INS officials defended Project Jobs as successful and said they were not surprised that some firms had complained about the difficulty of finding American citizens to fill the vacancies.
"Many of the companies in Houston and Dallas were targets of earlier INS raids," said Richard Norton, national coordinator of Project Jobs. "They would be the ones most likely to point out that it was an ineffective program."
Norton said the apprehensions had opened up many jobs for U.S. citizens. "We were encouraged that these companies went out and hired a large number of lawful citizens," he said.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that INS raids on businesses and factories violated the constitutional rights of workers. The INS announced Friday it would suspend such raids in four states--California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii--while it studies the opinion.
The particular case before the 9th Circuit grew out of raids conducted by INS in 1977 in Los Angeles, but it could have a widespread effect on INS operations, because such raids are common throughout the country. Project Jobs differed from normal operations in part because INS referred job openings created by the raids to state employment commissions.
The Project Jobs raids, carried out April 26-30 with great publicity at 560 job sites in New York, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, were extremely controversial, especially among Mexican Americans, who criticized INS for attempting to make undocumented workers scapegoats for the high level of unemployment in the country.
INS estimates that 87 percent of the 5,540 persons apprehended during the five days of raids were from Mexico. Within a week after the raids, 4,071 had been returned to their home countries.
On May 14, INS employes surveyed at random some of the firms in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth--the cities that produced the largest number of undocumented workers--to find out how many of the vacancies had been filled.
A copy of the survey's results was made available to The Washington Post, and many of those firms were contacted independently this week.
Norton said INS does not have updated statistics on what has happened to the workers it apprehended in April or on how the companies that were raided have chosen to fill the vacancies.
But officials of some of the affected firms scoffed this week at the INS raids, calling them a political and publicity stunt that had disrupted their operations. They said the only way to stop many companies from hiring undocumented workers was through employer sanctions, such as fines.
"I would prefer to hire American citizens," said Paul Boyd, president of East-West Pipe Co. in Houston. "I'm a good American. I served in the Army. But for them to think they accomplished anything in Project Jobs is naive . . . . I know my competitors did not say, 'Gee, we'd better not hire illegal aliens.' "
Boyd said he hired a forge crew of 11 U.S. citizens to replace some of the undocumented workers apprehended. "It's real hot and cruddy work. They lasted one day."
Robin Denke, personnel manager at Trinity Steel in Fort Worth, said the company has hired about 60 new people to fill the vacancies created by the raids, "but only 15 to 20 have stayed, at most."
"We've tried to find people, but when we check references, they've got poor attendance records or bad attitudes," she said.
Another Trinity Steel employe said the company was behind in its work because of the problem of finding new workers. "There are a lot of people who don't want to do the work," he said. "It's hot, dirty work. They show up and work for half a day and then quit."
INS records show that 114 illegal aliens were apprehended at Trees Inc., in Houston during Project Jobs. "We hired 200 people after the raids," said Rudy Reyes, vice president of Trees. "Only about seven stayed on the job."
One of the biggest raids took place at Melody Homes in Fort Worth, where, according to INS, about 170 undocumented workers were captured. "Initially, we had a very large turnover rate," said Gordon Trantham. "It was difficult to find people willing to do the work." He said turnover had slowed in recent weeks.
One Houston firm hired 92 people to fill 55 vacancies created by the raids, and 68 had quit by the time INS did a followup survey in May. "They didn't like the pay and they didn't like the work," said Christian Goddard of Krest Mark Inc., a window-assembly company.
Asked if that kind of turnover was normal, Goddard said, "It's not normal when we had the illegals. They're pretty steady."
Several companies reported they had deliberately replaced only a fraction of the number of undocumented workers apprehended because of the recession.
Other firms, however, said the recession had made it easier to find new employes. The personnel manager of a Los Angeles furniture manufacturing plant said he quickly replaced 120 undocumented workers captured at his plant and said turnover was no higher than normal.
Ralph Bennett, vice president of Marilyn Belts and Bags in Dallas, said his company is just beginning to replace the 81 illegal aliens apprehended during Project Jobs and predicted that rising unemployment in Texas would make it easy to fill the vacancies.
"In normal times, we cannot get people to take a lot of these jobs," Bennett said. "It's hard to find people to work five days a week. The Latin Americans will work five days; the others might not."
Bennett was asked if the raids had made him less likely to hire undocumented workers. "No," he replied. "We don't ask anybody what nationality they are. When we need people, we need people, and we hire whoever comes through the door."
Some firms, however, report that Project Jobs had forced them to alter hiring practices.
"We changed our policy," said Bill Ellis of A. Brandt Mfg., in Fort Worth. "After the raid, we met with INS people and told them we would not hire any more undocumented workers."