WALLA WALLA, Wash.—Three weeks after WW reported U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith’s Eastern Oregon food-processing plant employed undocumented workers—a claim the senator vigorously denied—another illegal immigrant has come forward with his personal story of working there.
Manuel Raya, a 58-year-old Walla Walla resident, says he worked at Smith Frozen Foods on and off for nearly a decade sorting corn and repackaging frozen produce—from September 1997 until June 28, 2007. He says he used a fake Social Security number he bought on the streets of Los Angeles in 1980, just days after he immigrated illegally to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico....
Beginning in 2000, Raya was the subject of a lengthy profile that ran periodically for several months in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, a daily newspaper that circulates in Eastern Washington and Oregon. Raya suffers from neurofibromatosis, a highly unusual medical condition that badly disfigured his face. The newspaper series focused on Raya’s efforts to have the damage surgically repaired. (As a seasonal worker at Smith Frozen Foods, Raya did not qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance.)...
Yet, according to [Smith spokesperson] Lesko, Smith Frozen Foods did not learn Raya was an illegal immigrant until seven years after the initial series of stories, which were picked up by the Associated Press. "In June 2007 a production supervisor brought to my attention a newspaper article from 2003 that stated Manuel Raya was an ‘illegal immigrant,’" Lesko told WW in a follow-up email Tuesday, Sept. 23.
Raya, who now earns about $20 a day collecting and recycling empty cans, believes Smith Frozen Foods always knew he was an undocumented worker but chose to do nothing about it because, as is the case for most agricultural companies, undocumented workers provide a large supply of hardworking and relatively inexpensive employees.
Smith is still staunchly denying the allegations. The thing is, it wouldn't be at all surprising to find that some workers at Smith's plant did indeed use fake documents to get their jobs. That there have been undocumented workers at the plant isn't the issue.
The issue for Smith is two-fold. First, he keeps lying about it, denying the allegations. Second, to boost his Republican cred with his base, he takes a very hard line in the immigration debate in Congress. That kind of hypocrisy on the part of a Republican comes as no surprise to us, but Republican voters in Oregon aren't going to like it.
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