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Hazelton, Pennsylvania, made news this month for being one of the country's toughest little towns on illegal immigration. The city of 23,000 passed an ordinance July 13 that denies licenses to companies that employ illegal immigrants and fines landlords who rent apartments to them.
That should make a woman named Tiffany happy. She's a Hazelton resident who asked that her last name not be used for this article, but recently, she tells New Times, she was angry because she suspected a Hazelton bakery of employing hundreds of illegals.
She tried to report the bakery to the U.S. government, making calls and checking the websites of various agencies. When it appeared that her complaints were falling on deaf ears, she says it became obvious she had only one place to turn.
For the past two years, Caulkett has operated a website he calls reportillegals.com. He encourages people around the country who are fed up with the government's immigration policies to send him reports about people they suspect of being in the country illegally. For a fee of $10, he acts as a middleman, polishing those complaints and forwarding them to various government agencies while keeping the original tipster anonymous.
Caulkett says Tiffany's allegations against the Hazelton bakery sounded credible. Her ex-husband had worked at the bakery, and she claimed to have detailed knowledge of what was happening there. So Caulkett used his strongest language as he wrote to agents at the Philadelphia office of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).
The complaint named six people, including a family of four, and accused the bakery of employing children: "Many Americans have been fired to be replaced with illegals for half the price. The average rate of pay is $5 an hour or less... A few have been beaten for threatening to talk."
Caulkett spell-checked Tiffany's submission for errors, highlighted important passages referring to specific crimes, attached a cover sheet, and faxed it to ICE's Philadelphia office, keeping Tiffany's identity secret.
The next day, Tiffany got what she had wanted for months: acknowledgment. Even though it was only from Caulkett, and not from immigration authorities, she felt as though someone was listening.
"I got confirmation as soon as I sent the report," she says. "He sent me an e-mail the next day."
That e-mail contained Caulkett's standard disclaimer: "We can not guarantee that the report will be acted upon nor provide any status reports. Let's hope our government will enforce the law."
It's a modest guarantee of success. But still, to the thousands of people who have visited the site and the many who have sent him accusations in the form of descriptions of their co-workers and neighbors some even going so far as to send copies of driver's licenses and other documentation to prove their allegations Caulkett has opened up a new front in the fight to turn back a tide of illegal workers in the United States.
Sitting in the lobby of the local condo association out of which he runs his business, Caulkett pauses for a long moment, searching for the most accurate way to describe the success of his website. Finally, with a sigh, he estimates that in its two years of operation, his faxes and phone calls on behalf of tipsters have been responsible for 12 deportations and have prevented five or six additional illegals from reentering the United States, though he offered no documentation to back up his claim. Since immigration exploded as a national issue in March, his business has boomed. He now receives hundreds of e-mails a day, many of them accompanied by detailed reports of alleged illegal activity.
"I've given people hope, and I've stood up for the rule of law," he says, "and people appreciate that."
The website has received roughly 58,000 unique visitors in the past year. That's not Google-level activity, perhaps, but the site consistently comes up first in searches for "report illegals."
But the online business hasn't resulted in much news coverage locally. After the website's launch in late 2003, it was featured in several articles in both the Spanish and English press, mostly in California. Since then, the website's reputation has grown, and Caulkett has made the rounds of talk radio. He also appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight as an expert on the subject of fraudulent immigrant marriages.
"The volume of e-mails right after the illegal alien protests started [in March] just skyrocketed," he says. "The whole climate changed after those protests."
Caulkett refuses to divulge the number of clients he has served or reports he has filed but hints that the number is in the hundreds, if not thousands. And at $10 per report, that adds up to a substantial pile of change. But Caulkett insists that it's never been enough for him to live on.
"It's not very lucrative," Caulkett says. "It's not what I want it to be."
At least there's merchandise to help pad the bottom line. His popular "Here Legally" T-shirts, at $18, provide more income (the site describes them as "terrific for the grocery store or the protest line").