On July 14, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, announced that a corporation domiciled in Pennsylvania pled guilty to a one-count Bill of Information charging the company with harboring unauthorized immigrants.
The U.S. District Judge sentenced the company to three years of probation and ordered that the company forfeit over $1 million in illegal proceeds that it obtained as a result of employing the unauthorized workers. The company was also ordered to comply with future immigration inspections and to provide training to its managers and employees with hiring authority about compliance with immigration laws.
According to court documents, the company rehired several workers under different names after an immigration inspection revealed that they were unauthorized to work in the United States. The company’s records showed that the unauthorized workers had been fired, but in reality, they continued to pick and grow mushrooms at the farm and were paid off of the company’s books.
The court documents reveal that, following the immigration inspection (I-9 audit), Agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) identified an informant who had previously worked at the farm. Under the agents’ direction, the informant attempted to be rehired while equipped with a surreptitious video/audio recording device. The investigation revealed that an employee was told to obtain false documents in another person’s name if he wished to continue working at the farm. Another worker was allegedly approached by the manager who told him to obtain a new identification card and name because he was illegally in the U.S. The farm’s manager and one of its other supervisory employees have pled guilty to a pattern and practice of employing unauthorized workers at the farm.
When an employer becomes the subject of an enforcement audit by ICE and I-9 violations are discovered, civil fines for simple paperwork violations – even if no undocumented workers are discovered – will range from $110 to $1,100 per I-9 Form depending on the severity of the errors. Penalties for knowingly hiring or continuing to hire undocumented individuals range from $375 to $16,000 per individual. In addition, the company owner, managers and human resources professionals can be held criminally liable for certain infractions, such as harboring of undocumented aliens.
It is important to have an established procedure for handling government audits of your I-9 Forms and to contact experienced immigration counsel even before becoming the subject of an HSI enforcement audit. Our firm provides a variety of services related to I-9 compliance, including voluntary audits and training, as well as representation in connection with enforcement audits by ICE. We have represented and advised employers across multiple industries with relation to I-9 compliance.