By Kerry Dougherty

July 1, 2011

If you've ever suspected that Washington isn't exactly serious about stemming the tide of illegal immigration, get a load of the latest move by the Justice Department.

A crack legal team is going after a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods in Smithfield, Virginia because it reportedly required more than the minimum amount of documentation from job applicants to prove that they were in the country legally.

In other words, Smithfield - a company that says it relies on immigrant labor - is in hot water for earnestly trying not to hire illegal workers.

And the corporation, which is headquartered in the Virginia town of the same name, will have to squander tractor-trailer loads of money on lawyers to get the feds off its back.

Nice going, Attorney General Eric Holder. Glad to see our tax dollars being spent on such a noble cause.

Memo to Smithfield and subsidiaries: In the future, just go through the motions when hiring. Ignore red flags that pop up during background checks. Above all, remember that immigration laws are not there to ferret out illegal immigrants. Their purpose is to quiet those who hold quaint notions about border security.

In case it's escaped the notice of the suit-and-briefcase crowd in the Justice Department, there's a full-blown unemployment crisis in this country. More than 9 percent of Americans can't find jobs, and that number is much, much higher when you consider people who have quit looking.

Any company attempting to give jobs only to legal workers ought to be applauded, not harassed.

Illegal immigrants continue to pour into this country year after year, administration after administration, looking for work. Once they're here, an array of laws and regulations prevent public institutions - like schools and hospitals - from finding them.

The one place we ought to be able to identify illegal immigrants is on the job. Employers are required to make sure their workers are here legally. That's not always easy.

So what does Farmland Foods Inc., a unit of Smithfield, get for its extra diligence? It's being hounded by federal factotums apparently because it asked a Spanish-speaking applicant to provide proof that she's a naturalized citizen - after a background check showed that there was something odd about her Social Security number.

I've read the complaint. It levels the laughable charge of "document abuse" against Farmland because, in the course of a 2009 check on Dora De Paz - whose handwritten papers in the court filings are entirely in Spanish - the employer asked her to bring in copies of her naturalization papers.

Hello. It looks like the company was trying to give this woman a job. It had reason to believe there was something irregular about one of her documents so it asked for more. According to the court papers, this has happened many times. Now Farmland is beating back snarling federal "watchdogs."

This follows another heavy-handed move by Holder.

This spring he tried to block the sale of a Tyson plant in Harrisonburg, VA to another poultry processor, citing anti-trust concerns. That case ended in a face-saving settlement last week after vigorous protests from Virginia politicians.

That suit was so wrongheaded that Gov. Bob McDonnell and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, both Republicans, joined Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner in a letter that asked the feds to butt out and warned that 500 Virginia jobs were in jeopardy, thanks to Holder's meddling.

"A legal victory that leads to a shuttered plant would be no victory for Virginia workers," Webb wrote.

Maybe it's time for this common-sense quartet to fire off another letter, telling Washington to get off the case of an employer trying to do the right thing.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.