Mel Kay, President and Founder, and Michael McLaughlin, a manager of Golden State Fence Company, ran a tight ship. They were contracted in the late nineties to build a fence 15 feet high and 6,100 feet long near the U.S.-Mexico border, to hold back the tide of immigrants. The Army Corps of Engineers called them “professional, reliable, and extremely competent … We have never encountered any problems with any personnel they have used.” Their revenue grew to $150 million in 2004. Their motto is “Home of the American Dream.”
In late March, a federal judge sentenced Kay and McLaughlin to house arrest, community service, probation, and fines of $300,000, for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants between 1999 and 2004. Their business was also fined $4.7 million.
But does the punishment fit the crime? Perhaps a more appropriate sentence would have included a fine of a few thousand dollars each. That, and being made to run through the desert. With no food and little water, risking death by hypothermia, dehydration and the violence of bandits. That, and spending years wondering when the knock might come at the door, whether tomorrow they will be taken away from their wives and children. Years of seeing only photos of the other kids left behind.
This, perhaps, would be a just sentence, but not for hiring workers who lack the right papers. For building fences to block their passage. For building cages.