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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. 9th Court of Appeals Agrees with OCAHO Decision

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In a rare Court of Appeals decision involving Form I-9 penalties, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (covers California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Hawaii) substantially agreed with a decision by the Office of Chief Administration Hearing Officer (OCAHO). See DLS Precision Fab LLC v. ICE (9th Cir. August 2017).

    In the underlying decision, OCAHO found DLS to have committed 504 violations related to their I-9 forms and assessed a penalty of $305,050. Of the 504 violations, 489 concerned substantive or paperwork violations while 15 concerned employees who DLS knowingly employed without work authorization. DLS was able to reduce the penalties to $305,050 from $495,250, which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought.

    On appeal to the 9th Circuit, DLS prevailed on one issue, thereby reducing the violations from 504 to 503. In the appeal, DLS argued its paperwork or substantive violations should be viewed under the “good faith defense” because it “made a good faith effort to comply with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by hiring a HR director, who exhibited bad faith by neglecting his duty to keep DLS compliant.” The Ninth Circuit was not persuaded by DLS’s argument because the HR director was acting as DLS’s agent; thus, “his failure to perform his responsibility may properly be imputed to DLS.” Moreover, DLS’s argument essentially requests the Ninth Circuit to rewrite the statute, something that is not with the court’s authority.

    The Court also affirmed OCAHO’s rejection of DLS’s statute of limitations defense. Concerning the numerous paperwork violations, the Court found such a violation occurs “until it is corrected, or until the employer no longer is required to retain the I-9 form.” There is a five-year statute of limitations, which applies the above test. In applying this test, the Ninth Circuit found one violation was beyond the five-year statute of limitations.

    Finally, DLS asserted OCAHO failed to take into account its inability to pay defense. The Court agreed with DLS but pointed out OCAHO was not required to consider an inability to pay; thus, there was no error.

    This court’s decision reinforces my mantra in previous articles – Form I-9 errors can have costly consequences; thus, all employers should conduct internal I-9 audits under the supervision of counsel who is well-versed in immigration compliance. For more information on how companies can protect themselves, you may want to read by new book, The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, available from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/I-9-E-Verify-...dp/0997083379/.
  2. OCAHO States Good Faith Does Not Warrant 25% Mitigation

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In another decision involving a small restaurant in Hamburg, the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) reduced the restaurant’s penalty from $46,657 to $33,725 for four violations of failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms and 67 violations for failing to properly complete I-9 forms. See U.S. v. 3679 Commerce Place, Inc. d/b/a Waterstone Grill, 12 OCAHO no.1296 (2017).

    Since Waterstone Grill admitted liability, the only issue before OCAHO was the amount of the penalties. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used $935 as the baseline penalty per violation based on a violation rate of over 50%. In an unusual twist, ICE found a 25% mitigation was warranted based upon the restaurant’s good faith in preparing the I-9 Forms. Normally, the five statutory factors, including good faith, are worth the 5% mitigation or aggravation. ICE also mitigated by 5% each due to the restaurant’s small size and the 67 employees in Court II were determined to be eligible for employment. ICE aggravated by 5% for the seriousness of the violations.

    Waterstone Grill asserted it deserved mitigation for three of the four employees in Count I because they were authorized to work and several non-statutory factors, including general public policy of leniency toward small businesses, its cooperation with ICE during the investigation, including enrolling in E-Verify, and its inability to pay the $47,000 penalty.

    OCAHO found 25% mitigation for good faith was unwarranted, especially where ICE offered no explanation for the size of the mitigation. However, some mitigation, which was not defined, was warranted. Concerning its inability to pay, OCAHO found it failed to show it could not pay the penalty, but found the proposed penalty should be viewed in light of the company’s financial situation. Although OCAHO found an employer’s post-inspection remedial measures may support mitigation, it declined to find such here.

    OCAHO found ICE failed to prove the employees in Count I were unauthorized to work. OCAHO stated “it does not always follow that a factor found not to be aggravating (which is normally where the factor of unauthorized workers is found) must necessarily and automatically be mitigating.” However, in this case, OCAHO decided this was a mitigating factor.

    OCAHO determined the proposal penalty should be reduced to $475 each for a total penalty of $33,725. As the facts demonstrate, if Waterstone would have performed an internal I-9 audit before ICE arrived with the NOI, most of the I-9 violations could have been corrected and not subject to a penalty.
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