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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. Has the Trump Administration Revived ICE Raids?

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law


    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in conjunction with the IRS and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, raided Southeastern Provisions, a slaughterhouse near Morristown, Tennessee on April 5, 2018. The raid was pursuant to a criminal search warrant issued by a Federal judge in Eastern District of Tennessee earlier in the week.

    In so doing, ICE/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initially detained 97 workers, who were transported to a local armory. Of the 97 detained, 86 were put into ICE detention, 10 were arrested on federal criminal charges, and one was arrested on state charges. Later, 32 individuals were released from ICE custody due to a review of their biometrics, which established legal status or were released on their recognizance due to being a single parent with children at home.

    Additionally, the government seized lots of records and documents related to the company’s finances and payroll. After a review of these records and documents, it is expected the federal government will charge Southeastern Provisions with knowingly employing undocumented workers and various tax fraud offenses.

    This raid is very unusual in that ICE has not conducted any such large raids since August 2008, when it raided Howard Industries in Laurel, Mississippi. For the past 10 years, ICE has executed many so-called “silent raids” through the delivery of a Notice of Inspection (NOI)/subpoena. As an example, in January 2018, ICE appeared at 98 of 7-Eleven convenience stores nationwide to deliver NOIs. However, these were not raids pursuant to federal criminal search warrant.

    ICE released a statement about the Southeastern Provisions “operation” which stated HSI encountered “individuals who are determined to be subject to removal, will be administratively arrested and placed in removal proceedings."

    One of my initial questions was why the IRS was involved in the raid. A 26-page affidavit from an IRS Special Agent filed in federal court to obtain a criminal search warrant gives insight as to what led to the IRS’s involvement in the raid. It was due to probable cause to believe the company violated federal law by filing false tax returns, willfully failing to collect federal employment taxes, and evading the assessment and payment of other federal employment taxes.

    According to the affidavit, federal authorities were originally tipped off by bank employees about large cash withdrawals from Citizens Bank in Morristown made by management/owners of Southeastern Provisions. When bank employees questioned the transactions, the affidavit said they were told the cash was used for payroll. Investigators say $25 million in cash was withdrawn from the bank accounts beginning in 2008. Thereafter, for an unknown reason, bank officials toured the slaughterhouse in December 2016 and they were told by management that most of their employees were Hispanic and paid weekly in cash.

    The affidavit also states multiple withdrawals of more than $100,000 were made from Southeastern Provisions bank accounts. On IRS forms, Southeastern Provisions reported only 44 employees to the government. But based on aerial surveillance, 87 vehicles were found parked at the plant, leading authorities to believe the plant was employing 30-40 more undocumented immigrants. Using numbers from the investigation, the government estimated if Southeastern Provisions had properly reported wages to the IRS, they would have an additional $2.5 million payroll taxes from 2013-2016 on top of what they had already paid.

    Besides this information, the government use a confidential informant (referred to as CI-1 in the affidavit), who was hired by Southeastern Provisions. According to CI-1, he never completed any paperwork, such as an I-9 form, nor was he required to show any identification or documentation of lawful status before being hired. The informant said he was told he didn't need a lawful identity to work at the company. He also reported he was paid in cash. Additionally, the production workers were required to work overtime without being paid extra for their overtime hours, according to the informant.

    After the workers were detained, they were taken to a local armory for processing. The individuals who remain detained at the local armory have been taken to an ICE detention facility in Louisiana. Each will appear in Immigration Court, if not already the subject of a prior removal/deportation order. In Immigration Court, the detainees will be able to seek a bond to be posted for their release. There will also be hearings to determine whether there is a legal basis, such as Adjustment of Status, Cancellation of Removal, or asylum, to lawfully remain in the U.S. and obtain a green card.

    The looming question that this raid raises – does this mean ICE raids at employer facilities are back and will be used in worksite enforcement. Only time will tell. I will keep you updated.

    If you want to know more information on employer immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  2. Texas Tortilla Company Convicted of Employment of Undocumented Workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC
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    La Espiga De Oro (Espiga), manufacturer of tortillas for distribution to restaurants and businesses, forfeited $1 million because of a felony conviction of conspiracy to induce and encourage unlawful immigration through a pattern and practice of hiring and employing illegal aliens at the Texas tortilla factory. Owners Alfredo Sosa Lira, his wife Lydia Botello-Lira, their daughter Lydia Lira, and night manager Roberto Guerra, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations associated with their continued employment of undocumented aliens between October 2011 and August 2015.

    Homeland Security Investigations investigated a series of complaints about the company’s hiring practices. An undercover operation later led to evidence that the company knowingly hired individuals not authorized to work in the United States. In some instances, the company knew that aliens used fraudulent documents to secure employment.

    HSI executed a search warrant at the company in August 2015, which led to the discovery of 10 undocumented workers working there as well as evidence demonstrating that 55% of their employees were not authorized by law to work at the factory. Following the search warrant, the company was charged by criminal complaint and began cooperating with HSI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to revise their hiring practices and implement new procedures to prevent future violations of federal law.

    The company paid $1 million, representing an amount that at least equals the value of property used to facilitate the crime, the value of wages paid to the unauthorized work force and the value of products manufactured and services provided by the illegal workforce during the conspiracy. This money will go directly to immigration authorities to assist them with their future enforcement efforts.
  3. ICE Raids Factory in Houston

    By Bruce Buchanan, Siskind Susser PC

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    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Labor (DOL) raided the tortilla factory, La Espiga de Oro, in Houston, Texas in August 2015. They served a criminal search warrant at the business and detained approximately 10 workers from the factory.

    Prior Raids Stopped in 2008

    2008 was the last year of any significant raids by ICE on employees. In that year, ICE raided a meatpacking plant in Pottsville, Iowa, Howard Industries, Inc. in Laurel, Mississippi, and Action Rags USA, a second-hand clothing company, in Houston, Texas. That same year, ICE announced a shift away from sweeping up undocumented workers in high-profile work site enforcement raids. Instead, ICE began a Culture of Compliance, which focused on targeting employers for their hiring practices and proper completion of the I-9 forms. This has forced thousands of U.S. businesses to open up their books to ICE agents and led to the collection of millions of dollars in penalties.

    Some Detained Workers Received Employment Authorization

    Greg Palmore, a spokesman for ICE, said the La Espiga de Oro raid is part of an ongoing investigation but declined to provide any more details. He said that seven of the 10 detained workers were granted employment authorization, allowing them to legally work here for up to one year because they are “material witnesses.” Palmore stated the immigrants “have to be able to work and survive while we retain them as witnesses.” Three other detainees were not granted work authorization though ICE declined to say why.

    Takeaways

    Has ICE changed their methods or was this raid just an aberration? Time will tell. I will keep you alerted on this matter.

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