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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. DOJ Settles Immigration-Related Claim for $200,000 against Staffing Companies

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a settlement whereby CitiStaff Solutions Inc., and CitiStaff Management Group Inc. (collectively CitiStaff) agreed to pay a civil penalty of $200,000 to the United States government. The settlement resolves the investigation into whether CitiStaff violated the law by discriminating against work-authorized immigrants when verifying their work authorization.

    Based on its investigation, IER concluded that CitiStaff, which provide staffing services in the greater Los Angeles, California area, routinely requested non-U.S. citizens present specific documents to prove their work authorization, such as Permanent Resident Cards (green cards) or Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), but did not make similar requests for specific documents to U.S. citizens. All work-authorized individuals, whether U.S. citizens or non-U.S. citizens, have the right to choose which valid documentation to present to prove they are authorized to work. The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits employers from subjecting employees to different or unnecessary documentary demands based on employees’ citizenship, immigration status or national origin.

    Furthermore, the investigation found CitiStaff required lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to reverify their work authorization status when their Permanent Resident Cards expired. It is unlawful to require reverification of a green card even if it expires as the LPRs continue to hold lawful status after a green card’s expiration.

    Under the settlement, CitiStaff will pay a civil penalty of $200,000 to the United States, train its staff on the law, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for three years.

    Companies need to be aware of the laws relating to determining employees’ lawful employment status as well as the law concerning re-verification. As you see, it is so easy for employers to make costly mistakes. For the answers to many other questions related to employer immigration compliance, I invite you to read my new book, The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, which is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  2. Asplundh Tree Experts Agrees to pay $95 Million for Illegal Hiring

    BY: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    Asplundh Tree Experts has agreed to pay $95 million concerning the employment of undocumented workers. This is the largest monetary penalty ever levied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an immigration case. Based on Asplundh Tree Experts Company’s guilty plea in federal court, the Court imposed a sentence of $80 million forfeiture money judgment. Pursuant to a separate Civil Settlement Agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15 million dollars to satisfy civil claims arising out of their failure to comply with immigration law.

    Asplundh, an industry leader in tree trimming and brush clearance for power and gas lines, headquartered in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to unlawfully employing aliens, regarding a scheme in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States.

    Court documents show the hiring system was developed after a 2009 I-9 inspection by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which revealed Asplundh employed workers who were ineligible to work in the country. Asplundh fired at least 100 of them, but a regional manager, Larry Gauger, later instructed supervisors to hire some of them back by accepting fake forms of identification, including permanent resident cards or Social Security cards. Gauger knew the dismissed employees within his region were being re-hired under different and false names and false identity documentation and encouraged his supervisors and general foreman to continue this practice.

    Thereafter, the investigation revealed Asplundh decentralized its hiring so Sponsors (the highest levels of management) could remain willfully blind while Supervisors and General Foremen (2nd and 3rd level supervisors) hired ineligible workers, including unauthorized aliens, in the field. Hiring was by word of mouth referrals rather than through any systematic application process. This manner of hiring enabled Supervisors and General Foremen to hire a work force that was readily available. This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit.

    The amount of the $80 million forfeiture was determined by a review of Asplundh’s payroll, which showed the employment of thousands of undocumented immigrants over four years. Asplundh had a workforce of approximately 30,000. Investigators determined that Asplundh used the fraudulent techniques to hire at least 10 percent of its workforce — or about 3,000 to 4,000 workers — in a four-year span, and earned $800 million in profits during that stretch. The presiding Judge, Josh A. Davison, said the idea of a forfeiture is to seize illegal gains, so the government reasoned that the illegally hired 10 percent of the workforce generated 10 percent of the profits. Thus, 10% of $80 million is $80 million.

    Prior to the company’s guilty plea, regional manager Gauger has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in October 2017, along with two supervisors, Juan Rodriguez and Jude Solis, who pleaded guilty in the same conspiracy.

    This case is another example of the U.S. government cracking down on employers who violate the immigration laws.
  3. IER Settles Discrimination Claims Against Carrillo Farm

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    The Immigration and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement with Carrillo Farm Labor, LLC, an onion farm in Deming, New Mexico, resolving an investigation of complaints that Carrillo Farm discriminated against U.S. citizens due to a hiring preference for foreign visa workers. This settlement is part of a Department of Justice enforcement initiative dedicated to combatting employment discrimination against U.S. workers.

    After investigating complaints filed on behalf of two U.S. citizens, IER determined that Carrillo Farm denied U.S. citizens employment in 2016 because it wanted to hire temporary foreign workers under the H-2A visa program. Under the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), it is unlawful for employers to intentionally discriminate against U.S. citizens because of their citizenship status.

    The settlement agreement requires Carrillo Farm to pay a civil penalty of $5000 to the United States, undergo IER-provided training on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, and comply with departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for two years. In a separate agreement with workers represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Carrillo Farm agreed to pay a total of $44,000 in lost wages to affected U.S. workers.

    This is an interesting twist on discrimination – finding an employer discriminated against U.S. citizens. This settlement fits in well with DOJ’s recent announcement warning employers not to discriminate against U.S. citizens.
  4. DOJ Settles Immigration Claim Against Another Staffing Agency

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    The Justice Department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) (formerly known as OSC) has reached a settlement agreement with Provisional Staffing Solutions, a temporary staffing agency located in Cranston, Rhode Island. The agreement resolves the IER’s investigation into whether Provisional Staffing discriminated against non-U.S. citizens in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

    The investigation concluded Provisional Staffing routinely requested non-U.S. citizens present specific identity documents, such as a Permanent Resident Card, to prove their work authorization while not requesting a specific identity document from U.S. citizens. The antidiscrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on the employees’ citizenship or national origin.  Lawful permanents residents and other work-authorized non-U.S. citizens often have the same identity and work authorization documents available to them as U.S. citizens, and may choose from among the acceptable documents to prove they are authorized to work.

    Under the settlement, Provisional Staffing must pay a civil penalty of over $16,000 to the United States, provide a copy of Lists of Acceptable Documents to employees simultaneously with the request for employees to complete their I-9 forms, revise company policies in order that they prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin, post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s antidiscrimination provision, train their human resources personnel, through the viewing of an IER webinar, on immigration compliance issues, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for the next three years.

    Staffing companies appear to be more likely to violate the antidiscrimination provision of the INA. In the past year, IER has settled with at least five staffing companies concerning allegations of discrimination due to citizenship status.
  5. Employer’s Argument for Electronic Signature Fails

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In U.S. v. Agri-Systems (ASI), 12 OCAHO no. 1301 (Apr. 2017), the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found ASI’s argument, that typing in the company name in Section 2 of an I-9 form equaled an electronic signature, was “spirited but contrary to both law and evidence.” However, OCAHO agreed with ASI that a question of whether 23 Form I-9s were timely presented to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a factual dispute, which cannot be decided without a hearing where witnesses will testify concerning the delivery or non-delivery of those I-9 forms.

    This case started almost six years ago with the service of a Notice of Inspection (NOI) by ICE. Thereafter, ASI delivered 159 Form I-9s to ICE. Two years later, ICE served a Notice of Suspect Documents (NSD), Notice of Discrepancies, and Notice of Technical Errors on ASI. As a result, ASI terminated the 46 employees on the NSD and 22 of the 28 employees on the Notice of Discrepancies plus it provided new I-9 forms on the other six employees listed in the Notice of Discrepancies.

    Two and one-half years later, ICE issued a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF) alleging in Count I – ASI failed to present 23 Form I-9s and failed to prepare five Form I-9s – and Count II – 82 instances of ASI’s failure to ensure Section I was properly completed or failed to properly complete Sections 2 or 3. As a result, ICE sought a penalty of $103,645 for the 110 alleged violations.

    Many of the Section 2 allegations concerned whether an “electronic” signature was utilized by ASI to sign the certification in Section 2. ASI asserted its “signature” was through the use of “word processing” that “efficiently demonstrates the attestation was read as it comes immediately below the attestation itself.” However, what ASI referred to as a signature was in actuality the typed company name and address on some of the I-9 forms.

    OCAHO found ASI’s action did not equal a signature on a paper I-9 form or an electronic I-9 form. ASI conceded it did not use electronic I-9 forms but argued the typing of its name equaled an electronic signature. OCAHO found this assertion was contrary to both law and evidence. As OCAHO stated: “The relevant statute requires a signature in the attestation in Section 2, and merely pre-printing or typing the company’s name is not the equivalent of a signature.” And without a signature, OCAHO stated “the mandated attestation is patently not complete.”

    ASI also argued it did not violate the law concerning many of the allegations because it timely presented 23 Form I-9s, which ICE denied receipt of. Each party presented affidavits, which were in conflict. ASI officials said they mailed the I-9 forms in dispute and the ICE agent denied receipt. Based on a clear dispute on the factual allegations, OCAHO stated it would set the matter for a hearing, where each party could present their witnesses. (This will be a very rare occasion for live testimony in an OCAHO case.)

    OCAHO determined ASI committed 87 of the 110 allegations. However, because 23 allegations were still in dispute, it declined to find the appropriate penalty until after a decision is rendered on the 23 allegations.
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