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Hillman accused of hiring illegal aliens

- James Wright
November 01, 2006

Hours before its Sept. 30 expiration date, Congress extended the federal H2B non-skilled seasonal worker visa program for another year, much to the relief of seafood processors across the country.

Less than two weeks later, the owner of Hillman Shrimp & Oyster Co. of Dickinson, Texas, and four employees were indicted for allegedly recruiting and hiring illegal immigrants to work at the company's processing facilities in Dickinson and Port Lavaca, Texas.

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Attorney's office in Houston charged the company and its manager, Antonio Ramos Gonzalez, with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, encouraging and inducing undocumented aliens to enter and illegally remain in the United States as seasonal employees, using false identification documents and making false statements to a federal agency. The indictment alleges that violations occurred from 1999 through late June 2004.

If convicted of the felony conspiracy charge, the company faces a maximum fine of $500,000.

Gonzalez, a Mexican national and legal resident alien, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the felony conspiracy charge. He also faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and $250,000 in fines for each of three additional felony counts of visa fraud.

Owner Clifford Hillman, General Manager Steve Taylor and employees Wendy Taylor and Derenda Williams were charged with conspiracy to hire undocumented aliens, a misdemeanor violation. Steve Hillman, company pre­sident, says the allegations are unfounded.

"To our knowledge, we have always hired legal labor, be it local citizens or workers through the U.S. government's H2B visa worker program," Hillman says.

All H2B visa recipients are legal immigrants who return to their home countries after finishing their jobs. The Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005 exempted returning seasonal workers from the national cap of 66,000 people. It also established anti-fraud provisions and ensured a fair allocation among spring and summer employees.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (R-Md.) says the H2B visa extension, included in a Department of Defense authorization bill, guarantees pro­- ­cessors the labor force they need during peak seasons when they can't find American workers to take the jobs.

"Without these seasonal workers, many businesses would not survive - forced to limit services, lay off permanent U.S. workers or, worse yet, close their doors," Mikulski said in a prepared statement.

Further, the H2B extension requires employers to recruit American workers before hiring immigrant workers. The crab-processing industry in Mikulski's home state of Maryland will receive significant relief, as will seafood processors along the Gulf Coast, which is rebuilding after last year's hurricanes.

"It has helped us to recover and stay in business after Hurricane Katrina," says Mike Voisin, VP of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, La. "We've been able to use these people to accomplish both harvesting and processing needs. They've become critical to the community of seafood processors and harvesters. They're cogs in the wheel." -James Wright

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