"It's really kind of funny," says Mumpower. "Since I started making an issue of it, I've had more people coming forward. Some I know; some I don't know; some are friends of neighbors." Sonopress is based in Weaverville, not Asheville -- the city Mumpower was elected to serve -- but he says several of those who raised concerns are Asheville residents.
One of the tips came in the form of a letter. The writer, who addressed him as "Dr. M.," informed Mumpower that "two of my 'illegal' employees [went] to work for Sonopress. I know they were illegal due to one [Social Security] number beginning with '9.' ... He returned about [six] months later with a different name and driver's license number (compliments of the brainiacs at NC DMV). One didn't speak a lick of English. ... I can remember one name, [omitted]. ... He was also receiving Medicade [sic]/Medicare and WIC. Great country ain't it!" Mumpower declined to provide the name or any background information about his informant, who is presumably a former employer of illegal immigrants.
Resting his case on this and a handful of similar tips, Mumpower wrote to Sonopress Chief Operating Officer Joe Mann-Stadt, informing him of "rumors" that Sonopress was using "temporary illegal-alien contract workers."
"'Permanent' temporary jobs displace local workers and, in the case of illegal aliens, help fund the migration of citizens from other countries to the U.S. and create an unlevel playing field for employers who are playing it straight with our employment laws," wrote Mumpower. He attached a copy of the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that an employer who hires an "alien" can face imprisonment, and sent a copy of the letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"I have strong feelings about the harms of illegal immigration. And I'm going to pursue it any way I can," Mumpower told Xpress. "I believe strongly that Sonopress is sidestepping the rules, directly or indirectly."
Sonopress deferred press calls about the incident to spokesperson Andy Meltzer of the public-relations firm Matter Communications, who read a statement prepared by Mann-Stadt.
"Like many manufacturers, Sonopress engages a temporary-staffing agency to supply workers on an as-needed basis, allowing the company to meet seasonal and other shifting labor demands," he said. "Sonopress has sought and received written assurances on a regular basis from Employment Staffing Inc., our temporary-staffing agency, that it complies with all laws relevant to the workers it provides to Sonopress, including verification of their authorization to work in the United States." The company employs 650 to 750 full- and part-time employees, Meltzer added, depending on seasonal needs.
"It's statistically highly unlikely that this is the reality," responded Mumpower in an interview with Xpress. "The greater reality is that some of the parties involved have found ways to sidestep the system." And in his letter to Sonopress, he asserted that the company has a high number of non-English-speaking, Hispanic employees. Mumpower says he has no plans to contact Employment Staffing Inc.
Instead, he hopes to challenge Sonopress directly by preparing a list of individual employees who are in this country illegally. "Have you heard about this lady out in Hendersonville that has five children that's being deported? She's a pretty notorious person for abusing the system," says Mumpower. "And she was a former Sonopress employee. So we know of one." To obtain proof that there are others, he has put out a call for "creative community action," asking people to provide him with the names and other "specific information" about known illegal immigrants.
Who does Mumpower think might have access to that information? "Anybody that worked there and was exposed to some of the internal realities. And I'm hoping that articles like yours and other papers' will stir people up."