Angel Perez-Valezquez, a citizen of Guatemala who worked at a Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Taylor B. McNeel to charges of misusing a Social Security number.
The plea was announced via press release by Acting U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca and Jack P. Stanton, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans.
Perez-Valezquez, according to the release, will be sentenced by Judge McNeel on July 7, 2021, and faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, up to a $250,000 fine, and up to 3 years of supervised release. He also faces Homeland Security proceedings to remove him from the U.S. to Guatemala.
On August 25, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security, Border Enforcement Security Task Force in Gulfport, received information from the Hattiesburg Police Department (HPD) regarding the arrest of Perez-Valezquez who had been working at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant, under an assumed identity. A victim of the identity theft had contacted the HPD and reported the victim had received an Internal Revenue Service W-2 Form for 2019 from Mar-Jac Poultry. The victim said he had never been to Hattiesburg and had never worked for Mar-Jac Poultry.
Homeland Security Investigations agents determined that Perez-Valezquez worked at Mar-Jac Poultry under the victim’s name and social security number. Each time Perez-Valezquez was paid, he caused his employer, Mar-Jac Poultry, to report false information to the Social Security Administration, using the victim’s name and Social Security number.
Poultry industry has sought help with worker identity verification
Verifying the identity of immigrant workers has been a struggle for the U.S. poultry industry, which was brought to light on August 7, 2019, when The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted raids on several poultry plants in Mississippi. The Mar-Jac plant where Perz-Valezquez worked, however, was not among those plants.
The National Chicken Council (NCC) expressed concerns about the struggles with verifying applicants’ identities, and wrote to the president and other government leaders, seeking help to better prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants.
“We do wish to express serious concern about the ability of employers to ensure that they do not inadvertently hire an individual who is not eligible for employment,” the letter read. “The U.S. chicken industry uses every tool available to verify the identity and legal immigration status of all prospective employees. Unfortunately, the government does not provide employers with a reliable verification method to prevent identity fraud and document falsification and confirm with confidence that new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States. …
“It is the responsibility of employers to help ensure that the law is followed but it is the obligation of the government – not U.S. employers – to provide a secure worker verification system,” NCC wrote.