Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Thinking of Mollie Tibbetts

I was following a news story in the summer of 2018 regarding a young Iowa student named Mollie Tibbetts. It was a mesmerizing news story. She was staying at a home in Brooklyn Iowa in July, according to FoxNews. She went for an evening jog, and then disappeared. July and August brought various news stories and pleas for information. In August, CNN reported that she was found "in a rural area." An autopsy concluded the cause of death was "homicide resulting from multiple sharp force injuries." It was a troubling conclusion of the story for many. Several people since then have related to me how she reminded them of someone in their own lives. She seemed to have a certain familiarity to a great many people.

In August, FoxNews reported that an arrest had been made, Christhian Rivera. It reported that this suspect was not in the United States legally, and that he had worked at "Yarrabee Farms for the past several years," which was "less than three miles from where she was staying the night she vanished." The news reported that the employer is owned in part by relatives of Craig Lang, a "former 2018 Republican candidate for secretary of agriculture." To some, there was an undertone of employer responsibility in some news coverage of Mr. Rivera. 

The tenor of some news reports seemed to question Mr. Rivera's presence, and thus ability to allegedly be involved in Mollie's disappearance and death. A Des Moines Register story in September reported that Iowans were polled about the Tibbetts case, and placing responsibility. It concluded that by "almost 4-to-1, Iowans blame employers more than the workers when illegal immigrants are found working in Iowa." Sixty-three percent of Iowans reportedly blame employers compared to a 6% of Iowans that blame the immigrants. There appears to be a strong sentiment that employers must do more to verify the status of their employees.

According to FoxNews, One of the Yarrabee Farms owners, confirmed that Mr. Rivera was an employee. And, "that Rivera passed the government's E-Verify employment verification system, despite his status as an undocumented immigrant." FoxNews explained that E-Verify is "intended to maintain a database of I-9 forms and tax records of employees across the country." But, it was later reported by CNN that Mr. Rivera had used someone else's identification when he applied at Yarabee Farms. 

It is not unheard of for people to remain unnoticed. In 2015, there was ample discussion in Florida workers' compensation communities regarding the Brock and Hector cases. They each involved a criminal prosecution in Florida for the use of misrepresentations made in the hiring process. Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court elected not to review these cases. There was a petition to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), but it was declined. In Florida, it remains a crime to make false representations in obtaining employment. 

In a Kansas case somewhat similar to Brock and Hector, the Kansas Supreme Court reviewed a prosecution in which Ramiro Garcia was prosecuted for "identity theft for using another person's Social Security number to obtain employment." The Kansas Court concluded that he could not be prosecuted for that under state law. It concluded that federal law preempted state law. Though Garcia had not been convicted of violating federal law, the Court concluded that state law enforcement could not use his statements on federal immigration forms such as the I-9. 

In 2019, the issue of immigration may arise in Florida's legislature. In the Senate, two bills have been filed, by Senators Gruters (Senate Bill or "SB" 168) and Bean (SB170). Each begins with various findings and definitions. Each imposes duties on state law enforcement agencies and personnel to cooperate with federal authorities. The e-verify database is not specifically mentioned in either bill. 

However, WWSB7 in Sarasota reports that under the proposed legislation, "Florida businesses would have to use a federal database to verify the immigration status of new employees." It quotes one sponsor as concluding that "Florida is one of the only states in the Southeast that currently doesn't ask our employers to use that system." 

But if the legislative debate proceeds, will there be further discussion of Mollie Tibbetts and Christhian Rivera? Is is possible that someone like Mr. Rivera could have their information submitted to e-verify repeatedly and not be identified? Or, is it simply that people are generally smarter than to use their own information? How widespread is such activity? Mr. Rivera's crime, and the tragic death of Ms. Tibbetts, seem to illustrate a disconnect. Is there value to checking a database if people are able to present false information?

From a variety of standpoints, false representations are precluded by law, often referred to as "fraud." There are those who do not perceive the use of someone else's information to obtain employment as "fraud" or even as wrong. Some contend that prosecution of such activity is immoral or anti-immigrant. At least for now, the Florida precedent allows for prosecution of such misrepresentation, but that appears to not be the case elsewhere in the nation.

It is important to remember that crimes are committed by a variety of individuals, regardless of immigration status. Furthermore, there may be various reasons for concealing one's identity in the workplace; perhaps to avoid implications like child support collection, taxation, or otherwise. It is possible one might do so to engage implications like credentials, qualifications, or even licenses. Despite those potentials, there is some sentiment that checking identity and prosecuting those who make misrepresentations is inappropriate.

Will the coming debate conclude that mandated database checks regarding whether someone is legally present are necessary in Florida? It will be interesting to watch.


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