CEO of Duvall herb farm calls for reforms in immigration laws

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on February 5, 2013 at 7:57 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 5 at 8:15 PM

The CEO of a Washington company is calling on the nation’s leaders to reform the immigration system.

HerbCo paid a steep price for violating immigration laws – a $1 million fine.  CEO Ted Andrews admitted to what he called “a mistake” in an interview with KING 5.

However, he says the agricultural business is suffering because it can’t find laborers to work the fields.

“I need a legal and stable workforce, one that is accustomed to labor which is different than flipping burgers,” said Andrews.  “The system is broken.”

HerbCo, based in Duvall, is the largest organic herb producer in the country, picking and packing 25,000 pounds of herbs per week for sale in grocery stores.

For years, HerbCo relied on Mexican laborers to get the job done.

In 2011, a federal audit revealed that nearly two thirds of HerbCo’s workforce was illegal immigrants.  The government forced HerbCo to fire the illegals.

“I was in a difficult situation.  I made a decision.  It was a bad one,” said Andrews.

The admittedly bad decision was to hire some of those workers back and pay them under the table.

When the federal government found out it charged HerbCo and its CEO with the crime of hiring illegal aliens. 

In a plea agreement last year, HerbCo paid a million dollar fine and Andrews was sentenced to probation.

“I certainly regret our actions.  We made mistakes,” Andrews said.

Andrews says the agricultural industry is hampered by a lack of competent workers.  “These aren’t jobs that Americans want,” he says.

Andrews isn’t taking political sides and he doesn’t have any grand solutions.  He says farmers need a way to find workers.

“The government has tried a guest worker program.  (It’s) very awkward, very expensive and has a limited pool (of employees),” says Andrews.

Anti-immigration groups have pushed back against reform proposals.  They’re especially wary of proposals that offer “amnesty” to illegals already in the United States.

 

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