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Crackdown Affects Illegal Latino Workers In Triangle

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have prompted government agencies to tighten security and scrutinize records.

Such scrutiny by the Social Security Administration has set off a domino effect that put as many as 65 Latino Harris Teeter employees out of work.

Living in fear is not all that uncommon for many people who come to this country.

"The guerillas, they killed my husband and my sister's husbands," said a woman who came to the United States from Colombia. Two years ago, she found work at a local Harris Teeter store.

Then, just before Christmas, the Social Security Administration audited the grocery store chain.

The administration found out that there were problems with many of the Social Security numbers provided by Harris Teeter employees.

Reverend Maria Teresa Palmer works with the Latino community in Chapel Hill. She said that Latinos seeking work in this country use fake social security numbers because it is the quickest way to get a job.

However, the practice is illegal.

"There are many people who are trying very hard to get their papers in order to work in the community. They have applied for temporary protective status, but it takes years," she said.

Harris Teeter spokeswoman Jessica Graham said that "employees were told to either correct it or face termination."

One former Harris Teeter employee said that she was asked if her papers were "good." She said that she realized that she was fired when her name was no longer on the store's work schedule.

Harris Teeter said that it is just obeying the law. If the company -- or any company -- employs undocumented workers, it can be fined hundred of thousands of dollars.

Palmer said that there has to be a way to work out a compromise to help the workers.


Emily Lopez, Reporter
Chris Ray, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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