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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. The Quiet Before the Storm? A Review of 2017 OCAHO I-9 Penalty Decisions

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law




    Today, I am re-publishing my annual review of OCAHO decisions, which was originally published by LawLogix on May 17, 2018.

    The 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. This was a sudden change from 2016 when there were 16 substantive decisions against employers in I-9 penalty cases. Why the drastic reduction? Did employers stop committing I-9 violations? Did employers stop appealing decisions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? As recent news clearly illustrates, the answer to both questions is a resounding no.

    The real reason for the reduction in cases is actually much simpler and less provocative: turnover of Administrative Law Judges at OCAHO…..

    [I]t’s still worthwhile to review the substantive cases that were issued in 2017, in the hopes that employers can benefit in the future (when cases are once again likely to increase).

    For remainder of article go to https://www.lawlogix.com/the-quiet-b...lty-decisions/.

    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.

    Updated 06-11-2018 at 02:57 PM by BBuchanan

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. OCAHO Reduces Penalties for Two Related Companies

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    In a calendar year with few decisions, Office of Chief Administration Hearing Officer (OCAHO) issued its last one in U.S. v. Integrity Concrete/American Concrete, 13 OCAHO no. 1307 (2017). In this decision, OCAHO substantially reduced the penalties assessed against Integrity Concrete, Inc. and American Concrete, Inc., which essentially acted as joint employers. This decision only involves the amount of the penalties as Respondents agreed to the liability.

    Factual Scenario for Integity

    Integrity, located in San Diego, CA, was served with a Notice of Inspection (NOI) in January 2015. Thereafter, ICE served Notice of Suspect Documents on Integrity listing eight employees whose I-9 forms could not be verified as authorized to work. Integrity responded none of the eight employees were employed anymore.

    About seven months later, Integrity was served with a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF), which charged the company with the failing to timely prepare I-9 forms for five employees, failing to ensure that three employees properly completed Section 1 of their I-9 forms, and failing to properly complete Section 2 or 3 of the I-9 forms for 16 employees. ICE assessed a fine of $24,684 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 and 5% enhancement for lack of good faith and seriousness of the violations.

    In Integrity’s answer, it challenged the penalties asserting it was a small employer, numbering 28 employees, which should account for a 5% statutory reduction in the penalty, bad faith should not have been found, and the penalties assessed would place an undue hardship on the company.

    Factual Scenario for American

    American, also located in San Diego, CA, was served with a Notice of Inspection (NOI) in January 2015. Later, American was also served with a Notice of Suspect Documents listing four employees whose I-9 forms could not be verified as authorized to work. American responded none of these employees were employed at its company. ICE assessed a fine of $24,684 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 and a 5% enhancement for lack of good faith and seriousness of the violations.

    ICE also served a separate NIF on American alleging it failed to timely prepare I-9 forms for 10 employees. ICE proposed a fine of $5,390 based on a baseline penalty of $440 plus 5% enhancements for lack of good faith, seriousness of the violations, and employment of three undocumented workers. American filed an Answer asserting it should have received 5% mitigation for each of these factors: small size of its workforce (48 employees), good faith, and the non-statutory factor of leniency toward small businesses.

    OCAHO’s Decision

    The first factor discussed was whether Integrity and American should receive 5% mitigation for being a small employer. ICE asserted the fact that both employers had small workforces, 48 and 28 employees, was inappropriate for determining whether they were small employers. ICE argued it should focus on gross sales and gross assets. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for OCAHO disagreed and applied appropriate caselaw to find both to meet the definition of small employers; thus, they were entitled to the statutory 5% mitigating factor.

    Next the ALJ focused on whether Integrity and/or American should be assessed 5% enhancement for bad faith or 5% mitigation for good faith. ICE asserted three reasons for a finding of bad faith: Integrity backdated one I-9 form; both companies did not complete I-9 forms for some employees until after the NOIs issued; and their failure to present evidence that they utilize E-Verify.

    Although backdating alone is insufficient to support a finding of bad faith, the ALJ found several factors supported a finding of bad faith. However, the ALJ noted the use or non-use of E-Verify is not a factor which should be reviewed in determining good faith/bad faith.

    Concerning the employment of undocumented workers as an enhancement factor, the ALJ stated ICE failed to provide any evidence of their undocumented status. Rather, their enhancement was based on inclusion in the Notice of Suspect Documents. As the ALJ correctly pointed out, an allegation of undocumented status, which is essentially what placement on a Notice of Suspect Documents means, is not sufficient to prove undocumented status. Thus, no enhancement was added for this factor.

    Another issue involving Integrity was whether it established an inability to pay/hardship. The ALJ did not find such, despite a loss of over $600,000, because Integrity paid approximately $500,000 in salaries and benefits – much of which was paid to its shareholders.

    In determining the amount of the penalties, the ALJ was disturbed by the fact that $935 was the baseline penalty for Integrity while only $440 was the baseline penalty for American. Although the ALJ correctly noted the difference in the percentage of errors on the I-9 forms was the basis of the different baseline penalty, he found the companies should be assessed at approximately the same dollar amount and compliance rate alone is insufficient to justify wide variation. Thus, the ALJ assessed $400 baseline penalty for substantive paperwork violations and $500 for failure to prepare I-9 forms.

    Based on this analysis, Integrity was found to have committed five violations for failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms. Each of these violations will be assessed at $500, with the enhancement factor for seriousness of the violations and mitigation factor for the small size of the business cancelling each other. Accordingly, Integrity is liable for $2,525 under Count I. Under Counts II and III, Integrity was liable for substantive violations for failure to properly complete three I-9 forms and 19 substantive paperwork violations, all assessed at $400 each. Therefore, Integrity is liable for $11,325.

    American was found liable for 11 substantive violations for failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms. Each of these violations will be assessed at $500, which includes the $500 base fine, with the enhancement factor for seriousness of the violations and mitigation factor for the small size of the business cancelling each other. Accordingly, American is assessed a total civil penalty of $5,500.

    Conclusion

    OCAHO may have slowed down on adjudication of cases but they will be back to speed once they get their allotment of ALJs. In the meantime, now is a great time to conduct an internal I-9 audit under the supervision of an experienced immigration compliance attorney. To find out more about internal I-9 audits as well as other employer immigration compliance issues, I invite you to read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book that I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  5. 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/.
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