MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Three years ago, the Bush administration announced a dramatic shift in immigration policy. It would prosecute employers who knowingly hired illegal workers. A business in Kentucky was one of the first targets.
(Soundbite of newscast)
Unidentified Man: Good evening. A major tristate home builder is busted on federal immigration charges. Four supervisors with Fischer Homes are under arrest.
NORRIS: The raid made headlines for weeks, but the charges against the supervisors were later dismissed. Now, in a rare move, Fischer Homes is speaking out with its own accusations. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has that story.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: On May 9, 2006, federal agents raided a series of Fischer Homes construction sites and arrested four supervisors in their homes, leading them to vans in handcuffs and leg shackles. CEO and founder Henry Fischer says he had no idea why agents targeted his 26-year-old, family-run business.
Mr. HENRY FISCHER (CEO, Founder, Fischer Homes): I had worked my whole life to build the company. On top of that, the government was attacking those four associates and trying to ruin their lives. I was in total disbelief. I was shell-shocked, and I was sick.
LUDDEN: Fischer was also angry. He asked former journalist Jon Entine to document the ordeal. As Entine lays out in a new book, the government's case centered on a day in January 2006, when Fischer supervisors at various job sites had some unexpected visitors.
Mr. JON ENTINE (Author, "No Crime but Prejudice: Fischer Homes, the Immigration Fiasco and Extra-Judicial Prosecution"): A team of undercover agents had an undercover video camera embedded in the windshield of the car. They all wore wireless mics, and they went to the home sites to discuss what they claim was a murder investigation.
LUDDEN: The video is not public evidence, but Entine has seen it. He says a federal agent repeats over and over that he's not from Immigration, then asks Fischer supervisors leading questions. He speculates that the Hispanic workers onsite are illegal. At one point, he asks Fischer supervisor Tim Copsy, am I accurate? And Copsy says, probably so. Entine reads from the video transcript.
Mr. ENTINE: So then the government agent said: Do you know what kind of percentage don't have visas? And Copsy said, it's probably 50 percent. I'm just picking out a number, though. Many of these guys get a visa temporarily or six-month visas. It's hard to say if they pass that date or not. They go home for winter.
LUDDEN: In the government affidavit, that exchange becomes, quote, Copsy stated that approximately 50 percent of the workers on this Fischer site were illegally in the United States.
Mr. DAVID FUTSCHER (Attorney for Fischer Homes): When I saw the video, the first thing that I felt was relief.
LUDDEN: David Futscher is the lawyer for Fischer Homes, and says the government charges were absurd. The supervisors faced up to 10 years in prison for aiding, abetting and harboring illegal workers. But the workers weren't Fischer employees. They were hired by subcontractors. Speculation aside, the company had no hard evidence they might be illegal. Futscher says federal prosecutors also seemed to disregard civil rights laws against racial profiling.
Mr. FUTSCHER: We were told that they should've known they were illegal because they showed up in white panel vans; they worked long hours, including weekends; they spoke broken English or spoke in Spanish; and because they cooked beans over a fire at lunch.
LUDDEN: Who told you that?
Mr. FUTSCHER: U.S. Attorney McBride.
Mr. ROBERT MCBRIDE (U.S. Attorney): I don't recall saying those things. What happened, you see…
LUDDEN: U.S. Attorney Robert McBride says he can't talk about the quality of evidence in the case. But he notes that a number of Fischer's subcontractors and their employees were convicted.
Mr. MCBRIDE: We used absolutely traditional, long-term law enforcement techniques that led us to the prosecution of well over 100 people who are involved in harboring illegal aliens successfully.
LUDDEN: For months, until the charges against Fischer's supervisors were dismissed, the government pressured Fischer to strike a plea deal and pay a million-dollar fine. Instead, the company spent three times that defending its employees. Lawyer David Futscher doesn't believe their guilt or innocence was the government's main concern.
Mr. FUTSCHER: It was Fischer Homes, and the pelt that they wanted to get of a midsize home builder to show that the government was serious about immigration. That's what this thing was all about at the end of the day.
LUDDEN: Henry Fischer says he's always followed the law scrupulously. He doesn't run his business any differently today than before the raids.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.
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