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Fence Company Fined $5 Million for Hiring Undocumented Workers

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Several years ago, Golden Fence Company helped construct a fence along the Mexico border to stop illegal immigrants from entering the United States. Ironically, the owner of the company and its manager appeared in court on Wednesday to find out what their punishment would be for hiring undocumented workers. It doesn't include jail time. Full Focus reporter Amita Sharma is here to tell us more.

The case against Golden Fence owner Melvin Kay and his son-in-law Michael McLaughlin was the first of its kind in California, if not the nation. In December, the two men pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

Federal Judge Barry Moskovitz on Wednesday sentenced the two men to three years probation, fines and community service. The judge said the men's backgrounds and the way they treated their workers did not make them "poster children" for cases against employers who hire undocumented workers. Kay's lawyer Richard Hirsch said he was satisfied with that penalty.

Hirsch : Mel Kay is an unusual person that built the company from scratch, having been raised as a migrant worker himself, was able to be successful because of his hard work. Because of how fairly he's treated his employees -- the judge recognized that -- and for that reason, he gave the sentence he did.

Indeed, Judge Moscovitz cited the fact that Golden Fence did not hurt the economy or competitors by exploiting his employees' immigration status. He paid his workers well and offered them medical benefits, life insurance and vacation time.

Moscovitz : This company, we believe, has paid the highest wages in the country for this type of work. It's work that is very difficult. It's work that is difficult to get people to do. Here in court today, there were 50 or more employees that have worked for this company for over 23 years and they believe in the company. They believe in Mr. Kay and they were here to support him and some of them are making over $100,000 a year for making fences. They're treated well.

Attorney Michael Pancer, who represents Golden Fence manager McLaughlin, says the fact that the government even filed a case against the company for hiring undocumented workers is reflective of the shifting political climate in the national debate over immigration reform.

Pancer : There's no question about it. If this is the first prosecution of a law that's been on the books since 1986, you'd either have to say they got caught in a changing political atmosphere or not a company since 1986 has been hiring undocumented workers. Everybody knows that's not true.

In addition to probation for the owner and manager, the company has to forfeit nearly $5 million.

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