Daniel González, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), January 11, 2007
A popular Web site that allows people to anonymously accuse employers of hiring illegal workers has managed to irk business owners, raise the ire of immigration authorities and show that anti-illegal immigration forces are focusing their efforts on employers.
Wehirealiens.com is operated by a citizens group that says it’s trying to fight illegal immigration by publicizing suspected employers of illegal immigrants on its site and reporting them to federal authorities. Critics, however, contend the site is part of a troubling movement by anti-illegal immigration groups to out businesses and individuals on the Internet.
It is among several sites that attempt to embarrass employers, but what makes the site so popular is what makes it controversial: Wehirealiens.com doesn’t check or confirm accusations from contributors before posting or sending information to authorities.
More than 2,700 businesses, including 200 in Arizona, are currently listed on the site’s list of ‘illegal employers.’
The Web site is not supported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the agency has used some information supplied by the site. Business and immigrant advocates say the site amounts to vigilantism, and legal experts say the site is on shaky legal grounds.
None of that fazes Jason Mrochek, the Web site’s operator.
Mrochek claimed credit when federal immigration agents on Dec. 12 raided meatpacking plants in six states and rounded up more than 1,200 undocumented workers employed by Greeley, Colo.-based Swift & Co. The meatpacker, Mrochek said, is one of several companies raided recently that first appeared on the Web site’s list of ‘suspected illegal employers.’
‘We’re glad that ICE is investigating and raiding some of these companies, and we hope it continues,’ said the co-founder and director of FIRE Coalition, an anti-illegal immigration group.
Born out of frustration
Mrochek, 32, based in Riverside County in California, said the site was launched in February 2005 out of frustration with the federal government’s lack of worksite enforcement. Its goal is to pressure employers to stop hiring undocumented workers and, therefore, reduce a main incentive of illegal immigration. The site, funded by donations, now averages 750,000 to 1 million hits a month, Mrochek said.
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 Web 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 Web site seems racially tinged, or stems from second- and thirdhand sources. Phoenix employment lawyer Neil Alexander said the Web 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.
What’s more, undocumented immigrants often use fraudulent documents that appear real, so employers don’t always know if a worker is actually in the country illegally, experts say.
Caroline Espinosa, spokeswoman for NumbersUSA, a national organization that advocates reductions in immigration, said wehirealiens.com and similar sites illustrate the public’s frustration with the federal government’s unwillingness to vigorously enforce employer sanctions.
Click to view wehirealiens.com