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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. How does ICE Calculate Fines in an I-9 Inspection

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law


    As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducts more and more I-9 inspections (the ICE director stated they would be increasing by 400 to 500%), employers need to know how ICE calculates any fines assessed against employers. AILA’s I-9 Verification Committee, through Rick Gump and Eileen Momblanco, recently drafted a fine Practice Pointer, which I encourage AILA members to read. For non-AILA members, this article will discuss the same concepts.

    It begins for an employer when ICE serves a Notice of Inspection (NOI)/subpoena to review the employer’s I-9 forms as well as many other HR-related records. The NOI gives the employer three business days to provide the subpoenaed documents. The ability to receive an extension of time to provide the I-9 forms and other documents seems to vary with what ICE office you are dealing. I have been successful in receiving extensions in almost all NOIs, but I never ask for more than one week and usually only five days. After the ICE auditor reviews the I-9 forms, the employer will receive a series of notices – Notice of Suspect Documents and Notice of Technical and Procedural Failures are the most common notices.

    If substantive paperwork, hiring, or continuing to employ (H/CTE) violations are found, ICE normally issues a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF), although if the errors are less than 10%, ICE usually only issues a Warning Notice without a penalty. The fine/penalty amount in the NIF is determined by ICE attorneys and special agents in charge. Fines can be challenged by requesting review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) within 30 days of receipt of the NIF. If litigated, the ALJ can adjust the fine amount.

    In November 2008, ICE issued a Memorandum, “Revised Administrative Fine Policy Procedures”, which contained a set of matrixes and required ICE to follow specific procedures for calculating paperwork and H/CTE fines. The Policy Procedures state the following to determine the level of fine within each matrix:


    • Use the number of violations of each type (paperwork or H/CTE) as the numerator and the number of total employees as the denominator; and
    • The percentage calculated above would be used to determine the percentage box in the fine matrix to start, and then fines could be adjusted up or down five percent for each of the five factors - business size, good faith, seriousness, employment of unauthorized aliens, and prior history with ICE/INS.


    However, ALJs can consider any factors it deems necessary to calculate an appropriate fine based on the case at hand. Cases with both paperwork and H/CTE violations sometimes produce higher fines for a greater number of paperwork violations compared to fines for a fewer number of H/CTE violations.

    To increase the level of penalties, ICE has begun to create a higher level of fine on each matrix by adding the number of paperwork violations to the number of H/CTE violations as the numerator, which in some cases dramatically increases the level of the fine in each matrix. Here are two examples:


    • If you have 100 employees with 10 substantive paperwork violations and 20 H/CTE violations, you add 10 + 20 = 30 to calculate 30% violations for each matrix. This would lead to a fine of $60,270 using the 2017 matrixes.
    • If you have 100 employees with 10 substantive paperwork violations and 20 H/CTE violations, you add 10/100 = 10% for paperwork and 20/100 = 20% for H/CTE violations for each matrix. This would lead to a fine of $40,560 without any aggravating or mitigating factors applied.


    In other words, instead of taking the number of paperwork violations and dividing them by the
    number of employees, and then calculating the H/CTE violations the same way, ICE adds the
    number of paperwork violations to the number of H/CTE violations when calculating the
    violation percentage from each matrix. This is resulting in a higher fine based on the matrix
    percentage of violations for each of the paperwork and H/CTE violations.

    ICE has defended this calculation method by pointing to language in the 2008 fine policy procedures, “The recommended base fine amount is determined by dividing the number of ‘knowing hire,’ ‘continuing to employ,’ and substantive verification violations by the total number of Forms I-9 presented for inspection to determine a violation percentage.”

    However, as the Practice Pointer states:
    On the next two pages, ICE instructs agents to “divide the number of ‘knowing hire’ and ‘continuing to employ’ violations by the number of employees for whom a Form I-9 should have been prepared to obtain a violation percentage” and to “divide the number of substantive violations by the number of employees for whom a Form I-9 should have been prepared to obtain a violation percentage.” Each instruction is paired with a separate fine matrix and no other ICE issued documentation instructs agents or attorneys to add the violations together. ICE’s I-9 inspection webpage also makes no mention of the double-dipping method of fine calculation.

    In evaluating NIFs, attorneys for employers should ask these questions:
    1. Are the fines calculated within the confines of the statute as updated by DOJ?
    2. What baseline and method did ICE use to calculate the fine in the instant case?
    3. What factors were used to aggravate or reduce the level of the fine?
    4. Were the factors appropriately used?
    5. Did ICE apply the 5% enhancement for employment of unauthorized aliens to only those violations as opposed to across the board?
    6. Did the NIF miscalculate the fines by double-counting violations? And
    7. Did ICE make other errors in its calculations?

    After evaluating these issues and trying to negotiate a settlement, one must assess the propriety of settling with ICE versus challenging the fine with an OCAHO ALJ.

    If you want to know more information on I-9 penalties/fines, 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. 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.
  3. Be Prepared for a Notice of Inspection from ICE, They May be at Your Door

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branches out from their concentration of ICE audits of California employers to the heartland of the United States, such as Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, employers need to be ready to respond to ICE’s delivery of a Notice of Inspection/subpoena.

    One of the best ways to prepare for an I-9 inspection by ICE is to hire an immigration attorney, who is experienced in worksite enforcement and immigration compliance issues. Even if you currently have an immigration attorney for employment-based visas, there is a good chance that he or she does not handle worksite enforcement, such as ICE inspections. Therefore, if you have an immigration attorney, reach out to him or her and inquire as to whether they are experienced in worksite enforcement matters. If so, great but if not, ask him or her to refer to an experienced immigration compliance/worksite enforcement attorney. If you don’t have an immigration attorney, ask your corporate counsel for assistance in finding one. You don’t want to be doing this after ICE shows up at your facility.

    The next step is for your immigration compliance attorney to conduct or supervise an internal I-9 audit. Through this audit, numerous errors will be found, most of which can be corrected so that if ICE inspects your I-9 forms, the errors will not be considered a substantive error, for which you can be penalized for. And don’t kid yourself, your I-9 forms have lots of errors. In all my years of practice, I don’t recall any employer’s I-9 forms as impeccable although on more than one occasion an employer has stated such before the I-9 audit began.

    Also, don’t be fooled by the fact that all your employees are U.S. citizens. You can still have substantive and technical I-9 errors. Another common comment from employers is I’m in great shape as we use E-Verify. Although E-Verify is excellent in establishing who is authorized to work, it cannot locate substantive or technical errors on the I-9 forms. One proven method to reduce substantive or technical errors on the I-9 forms is using electronic I-9 systems as well as using the “smart” I-9 form, which was introduced by the USCIS in 2016.

    The reason preparedness is so important is because of the short time period ICE gives employers to respond and supply the subpoenaed I-9 forms. The Notice of Inspection/subpoena allows the company just three days to turn over their I-9 forms, along with a laundry list of other documents such as payroll information, tax statements and assorted corporate documents. Usually, your counsel will be able to get an extension of these three days but rarely will ICE extend the date by more than a week. However, even this timeframe is not nearly enough time for a company that was not already prepared for it, especially if the company has a lot of employees or former employees. ICE can and does subpoena I-9 forms of former employees. One helpful hint on former employees’ I-9 forms is they may be purged at certain times but not after the subpoena is delivered.

    Getting an attorney involved as soon as an ICE inspection is launched can help an employer in several ways. As stated above, an attorney may help the company negotiate a few days’ extension in responding to the subpoena. And/or the attorney may be able to get a reduction in the list of requested documents. Most importantly, an attorney can help the employer prepare to respond in a methodical and thoughtful way.

    Being prepared for a Notice of Inspection/subpoena requires a company to have proper procedures in place upon hiring. The best way to have these procedures in place is with an Immigration Compliance Policy. Unless you have retained an immigration compliance/worksite enforcement attorney, it is extremely unlikely you have such a policy. One paragraph in your employee handbook does not equal an Immigration Compliance Policy. Under such a policy, every employee responsible for completing I-9 records on behalf of the company should be trained to do so. To many people, it is hard to tell the difference between a green card and a work authorization document issued to a recipient of DACA or TPS. Yet, one represents permanent work authorization that should never be reverified, and the other requires the employer to reverify the I-9 form upon the document’s expiration.
  4. ICE v. California – The Battle Continues

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC


    As any reader of this blog (or casual reader of immigration news) knows, the Trump administration has declared war against the State of California due to the State’s passage of various laws designed to protect undocumented immigrants as well as employers from unwanted federal intrusion into workplaces. Earlier this year, Thomas D. Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has criticized California for their efforts to protect undocumented immigrants and limit law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with immigration officials. Homan recently added “We’ve got to take these sanctuary cities on. We’ve got to take them to court, and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.”

    Upon this backdrop, in early March 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued California alleging three new state laws designed to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation by the federal government are unconstitutional. This article will focus on the employment-related statute - Immigrant Worker Protection Act. The DOJ is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions that prohibit California from enforcing Immigrant Worker Protection Act against private employers.

    Under the Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450), which became effective January 1, 2018, California has placed restrictions on how private employers in California must respond to ICE efforts to ensure immigration compliance, by requiring ICE agents to provide a judicial warrant to employers to access non-public portions of worksites. Thus, employers may not simply consent for ICE to have access to non-public portions of the worksite. Additionally, employers are prohibited from sharing confidential employee information, such as Social Security numbers, unless required to do so in a Notice of Inspection or provided a judicial warrant. The law also requires employers to provide employees and their authorized representatives, within 72 hours, with copies of written ICE notices providing results of inspections.

    According to the DOJ lawsuit, “These provisions, individually and collectively, have the purpose and effect of interfering with the enforcement of the INA and IRCA’s prohibition on working without authorization. California has no lawful interest in protecting unauthorized workers from detection or in shielding employers who have violated federal immigration law from penalty. These provisions, as applied to private employers, violate the Supremacy Clause by, among other things, constituting an obstacle to the United States’ enforcement of the immigration laws and discriminating against federal immigration enforcement.”

    California officials, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, assert they have the constitutional right to govern their state as they see fit because “States and local jurisdictions have the right to determine which policies are best for their communities.”

    “There is real uncertainty about who will win it,” said Ilya Somin, law professor at George Mason University. That's in part because the legal landscape on federal vs. state rights related to immigration is not clear. Lower courts have split on whether it is legal for the federal government to require local law enforcement to hand over immigrants. The lawsuit is a risky endeavor for the Trump administration because if it loses, it will potentially empower other states that want to defy the president to pass similar laws.
    I will keep you updated on this litigation. For a review of all employment and immigration-related state laws and other issues related to employer immigration compliance, I invite you to read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  5. 2017 OCAHO Decisions – Why So Few

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) was incredibly quiet in calendar year 2017 issuing only 5 substantive decisions against employers in I-9 penalty cases. Why so few decisions? Did employers stop committing any I-9 violations? Did employers stop appealing decisions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? The answer to both questions is no.

    The answer is that there has been such turnover of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) at OCAHO that very few cases have been heard by OCAHO. In 2016, ALJ Ellen K. Thomas retired and ALJ Stacy Paddack transferred to another agency after less than two years at OCAHO. In late 2016, James McHenry was named an OCAHO ALJ. However, his tenure was short-lived as less than six months later, he was named Acting Director of EOIR and in January 2018, he became the permanent Director of EOIR. So, after ALJ McHenry issued four OCAHO I-9-related decisions in first five months of 2017, only one such decision issued the rest of 2017. In the last nine months, ALJs have been “detailed from other agencies.

    The rest of my 2017 yearly review will be published by LawLogix in the coming weeks. So, look for it there.
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