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On day labor, Web is shaming tool

Illegal-immigration foes snap photos of workers being hired and the companies hiring them.

February 08, 2007|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

Activists fighting illegal immigration are using a time-proven method -- public shame -- to target employers who may hire undocumented workers, angering some business owners and federal authorities.

Instead of just protesting at day labor sites, activists around the country are posting on a website photos of people hiring the workers and the names of their companies, if that can be determined.

The website, www.wehirealiens.com, which reports 1 million hits a month, lists 2,920 employers in 47 states, including nearly 700 in California.

Founder Jason Mrochek, a 32-year-old Riverside County software developer, said the website was developed in 2005 because he and other activists were frustrated by the lack of action by the federal government in stemming illegal immigration. Mrochek's idea is to bring unwanted attention to those who hire illegal immigrants. For instance, he and others spent a recent Saturday in Capistrano Beach, snapping photos of anyone who tried to hire dayworkers congregating on Doheny Park Road.

Robin Hvidston, an Upland-based activist, said many employers looking for day laborers leave the worker sites when told they will be photographed.

The website "is one of our most effective tools in terms of targeting employers," she said. "No employer wants to see his company's name accusing him publicly before the world of breaking the law. It's very effective from that standpoint."

Mrochek said there was a "vetting" process that allows only postings with "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing.

Critics contend that the website activists, armed with flimsy evidence, act as judge and jury to punish a company that may have committed no crime by hiring Spanish-speaking workers.

"There is a McCarthy flavor to this whole thing," said Angelo A. Paparelli, an Irvine immigration attorney who represents employers and employees. "There is nothing wrong with punishing employers who do not follow the law, but there is no forum for them to defend themselves. This is grasping at straws. The whole thing smells."

Mike Amato, a general contractor in southern Orange County, was listed on the website after protesters took his photo and recorded his company's name from the side of his truck when he stopped last year at a day laborer site in Lake Forest.

The report on the website reads: "Day laborers quickly rushed the vehicle. Several got into the vehicle. We informed the driver and the man in the front passenger seat that we would be reporting what we observed to www.wehirealiens.com."

But no evidence that the workers were illegal or that Amato hired them was presented.

"How do they know who I was picking up?" said Amato, who continues to use day laborers. "I think it's wrong what they did, making accusations with no true grounds. I don't believe I'm doing anything wrong."

Defending the Amato posting, Mrochek cites a report by the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty that concluded that most dayworkers in the United States were working illegally.

Mrochek said he would remove information from the website if an employer called and proved the allegations wrong.

Republic Services, a trash collection company in Clark County, Nev., is listed on the site, which President Bob Coyle said was "very frustrating" because he participates in a federal program to check employees' immigration status.

Coyle said he believed a disgruntled employee made a post that says "almost all if not all the workers are working with false documents."

"It's blatantly false," Coyle said. "Anyone can post something to a website and then no one verifies it. Obviously, when you have 1,700 employees, every one of them is not happy every day of 365 days in a year."

Coyle said he wrote to the website asking that the post be removed but was turned down. Mrochek said he couldn't recall the specific case, but said he rejects many requests because employers are unwilling to engage in a dialogue about the allegations.

"It's very frustrating." Coyle said, "when you have spent a lot of time verifying lots of things when you hire people."

jennifer.delson@latimes.com

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