How did an undocumented Honduran teen end up working in Ashland City?


ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A 15-year-old Honduran boy snuck into the United States and got a job at an Ashland City company using a Tennessee man’s identity.

On Aug. 27, 2019, Austin Michael Willis called the Rogers Company in Ashland City to tell them someone is working at their plant pretending to be him.

The 22-year-old said he was shocked when company officials don’t believe him.

Willis claims he has never worked for the company or even been to Ashland City, yet when he called, the company said he was the one who was mistaken.

“I never even heard of their name. the woman i was talking to she thought i was lying. they had all my information, my social security card, my id, my address, exactly everything,” explained Willis.

When Ashland City police officer Rick Arguello went to the plant, he asked to speak to Austin Michael Willis.

“They said ‘yes, this man is working right now as a matter of fact,’ so they went and got him,” remembered Officer Arguello.

Factory officials produced a 15-year-old boy who can barely speak English.

MORE: Police: Honduran teen walks to America, assumes man’s identity to work at Ashland City manufacturing company

Rogers Company
(Photo: WKRN)

“I asked him if his name was Michael with that last name and he said he didn’t speak English, so I asked him what his name was and he could hardly pronounce it. And I asked him to spell it and he had trouble spelling it. I asked him how old he was. He said 22. No 21. Well, what’s your birthday? He said ‘I don’t remember,’” recalled Arguello.

Officer Arguello told News 2 the worker looked like a young boy to him.

According to Officer Arguello, the company hired the 15-year-old boy who claims he walked to the United States from Honduras.

Somehow the teen crossed the border and made it to Middle Tennessee. Somehow he obtained a fake social security card, a fake Tennessee driver’s license and then fooled the HR department at the Rogers Company into giving him a factory job for 13 dollars an hour.

Rose Palermo, a long-time Nashville attorney who has been practicing law for more than 50 years, has strong thoughts.

“I really get disturbed when I hear immigrants categorized as criminals. I would say probably 95% of the people who come into this country, as immigrants, legally or illegally are looking for a better life,” said Palmero.

Palermo said she has handled countless cases involving immigrants.

“You have an illegal immigrant, working, but for his identity, he is working legally, he is paying taxes and paying into the system, he’ll never get the benefit of the social security or the income tax he is paying in, but he is paying into the system,” explained Palmero.

Police arrested the teen, placed him with the Department of Children’s Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement was notified.

The current status of the young man is not known.

“It’s a sad situation for this child who has to come here and work and his parents are in their country and he is by himself,” said Officer Arguello.

“I’m not excusing him for breaking the law and coming in illegally, but I don’t see the harm that it is doing. I don’t like when people say they are taking jobs away from Americans. There are a lot of unfilled jobs, and the people willing work are the people who will come into this country and they are willing to work and they are willing to do anything,” added Palmero.

The Rogers Company issued a statement to News 2, which reads:

Rogers Manufacturing Corporation follows all Local, State and Federal laws during our hiring process. We make every effort to ensure the validity of all employees documentation upon hire by observation as well as uses the federal E-Verify system with all new hires. Furthermore RMC also aids all Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement to investigate and hold accountable those known to be using falsified documentation. We want to thank the Ashland City Police Department for bringing this to our attention and we will do all we can to aid in their investigation.

News 2 is digging deeper into ICE activity in Tennessee, the dynamics involved and the debate that has followed. See our special reports all day Thursday in every newscast. Click here to read more.

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