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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

    Click image for larger version. 

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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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