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Rep. Doug Collins seeking probe of hiring practices at SK Innovation, suggests scheme could be bringing illegal workers
Doug Collins.jpg
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville - photo by The Times

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, is asking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to investigate whether there “may be an ongoing effort to illegally employ foreign nationals” at a $1.67 billion Jackson County battery plant. 

The SK Innovation manufacturer is expected to employ more than 2,000 workers. The plant is at 1523 Steve Reynolds Industrial Parkway in Commerce. 

In a letter Wednesday, Aug. 19, to top officials at the federal agencies, Collins cites a May 29 incident at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, when border officials say they “intercepted 33 Korean nationals … who were attempting to enter the United States with fraudulent work authorizations. 

“It is my understanding that CBP determined that this was not an isolated incident, and that these Korean nationals were part of a larger scheme to illegally bring foreign workers into the United States,” Collins wrote. “If true, these actions are not only hurting American workers, many of whom are currently eager for work, they are illegal and must be stopped.”  

Collins said in a news release Thursday, Aug. 20, that he was “contacted by a constituent who has observed additional Korean nationals already illegally working at the facility.” 

And according to the constituent, who Collins said has been to the facility on multiple occasions, “the 33 Korean nationals intercepted by CBP in May represent only a small fraction of the work force on this project that have systemically and illegally been brought to the United States to displace American workers.” 

Collins addressed the acting heads of both Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, noting that “American workers and their families have experienced untold economic hardship arising from the coronavirus pandemic,” and suggesting that any job diverted to illegal workers means continued hardship on those American families. 

In a statement, an SK spokesman said the company requires contractors to ensure their workers meet state and federal guidelines. 

“After becoming aware of an issue in May through U.S. authorities, SK Battery America has repeatedly stressed to our contractors that U.S. hiring regulations must be followed and continues to insist on strict adherence to these laws by on-site management,” according to the statement. “We have cooperated fully with U.S. authorities to provide our support in resolving any issues.” 

The company reiterated in its statement that it plans to create “thousands of American jobs” in the Peach State. 

“Since breaking ground in early 2019, more than 1,000 U.S. citizens have been hired as part of the construction process of the $2.5 billion EV battery site,” according to the statement. “When the facilities are complete and reach full production in 2023, the site will employ more than 2,600 workers with nearly all of these long-term jobs going to U.S. citizens. We are currently working with state and local officials on hiring and training programs to fill these jobs.” 

A groundbreaking ceremony for the plant in March 2019 drew a huge group of local, state and federal officials, including Collins and U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. 

At the time, the plant was billed as Georgia’s largest single foreign investment. SK develops and makes lithium-ion batteries for hybrid electric vehicles.  

Customs and Border Protection plans to respond directly to Collins’ office, according to a spokesperson. A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement also said ICE responds to Congressional correspondence through official channels. 

Reporter Megan Reed contributed to this report.  

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