Countryside Health Care of Milford became the town’s first local employer Tuesday to sign on to the federal government’s background checking program aimed at curbing the hiring of illegal immigrants.
The nonfprofit health care center follows the lead of the town of Milford, population 28,000, which is the only community in New England and one of just a dozen nationwide that has enrolled in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers.
Milford officials signed the agreement with the US immigration agency in August and have since urged local businesses to follow suit. However, Countryside Health Care administrator Barry Chiler said the town never approached him about signing up. Instead, he read of the program through the newspaper.
“We thought it was a good way to find out if people were legal or not,” said Chiler, adding that he does not expect the federal immigration authorities to find any problems with his workforce.
Chiler said he dislikes the political connotation to joining the controversial program, which has been criticized by immigrant groups as being unfairly weighted against foreign-born workers. He said membership in the program will help his human resources department by providing online verification of the documents workers already are required to provide proving they are eligible to legally work in the United States.
“What I don’t like about the program is it appears to be so political,” Chiler said. “I’m not anti-immigration at all. I just want to make it easier on our HR and let this little nursing home take care of its patients.”
The health care center, with 180 employees, is a nonprofit, municipal, skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility with a town-appointed board of directors.
The federal program, established in 2006, has grown to 169 participants nationwide, and 61 more companies are undergoing training to join, according to Ross Feinstein a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.
There are just six participants in the program in Massachusetts, including Milford and Morningside Health Care, Feinstein said. The others are Saints Medical Center, Zaim Law Firm and the Lowell Housing Authority, all in Lowell; and Aetna Fire Alarm Service Co. in Dorchester.
“It is my pleasure to welcome Countryside Health Care of Milford,” said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in Boston. “When employers make a commitment to hire and maintain a lawful workforce, it’s good not only for their business, but for the community and the nation.”