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  1. 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.
  2. 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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