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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. Attorney and Spouse Sentenced to 2 Years Probation for Visa Fraud

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    After pleading guilty to fraud in relation to H-1B visas, New York immigration lawyer Loreto Kudera, and his wife, Hazel Kudera, the owner of several medical staffing agencies, were sentenced to two years probation and fined $25,000 each. Previously, they had forfeited $1 million.

    Hazel Kudera owned multiple staffing agencies in New York that specialized in providing nurses to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. According to the government, Hazel and Loreto Kudera submitted at least 100 fraudulent applications to authorities, and profited from filing fees collected from the nurses and from the health care facilities that paid Hazel Kudera’s staffing agencies.

    Hazel and Loreto Kudera falsely stated that the foreign nurses would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when in actuality they were going to work as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs) at much lower rates of pay.

    As part of the alleged scam, Hazel Kudera falsified a staffing agreement between NYC Healthcare Staffing and Dewitt Rehabilitation listing job positions that did not exist, such as clinical coordinator and health care quality assurance manager, in order to cover up the false job titles she provided to USICS.
  2. IER Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Levy Restaurants

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, reached a settlement agreement with Levy Premium Foodservice Limited Partnership d/b/a Levy Restaurants. The settlement resolves the investigation of a charge filed by the charging party, a lawful permanent resident, against Levy’s Barclay Center restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, alleging discrimination in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

    The IER concluded that Levy discriminated against two lawful permanent residents by improperly reverifying their employment eligibility because of their immigration status. It also determined that Levy improperly required them to present specific types of documents to re-establish their employment eligibility and suspended the charging party when he was unable to present such a document.

    The anti-discrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on the employee’s citizenship, immigration status or national origin.

    Levy cooperated throughout the investigation, quickly reinstated the charging party, and restored his lost wages and leave benefits. Under the settlement, Levy must pay a civil penalty of $2,500 to the United States, undergo IER-provided training on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, and be subject for one year to IER monitoring and reporting requirements – providing the I-9 forms of all non-U.S. employees hired during this period of time to IER for review as to whether Levy Restaurants is abiding by the law.

    This settlement demonstrates the need for employers to be careful as to the presentation of documentation by employees. Employers may not demand the presentation of certain documents, such as a green card. Rather, it is up to each individual employee to choose document(s) that are listed on the List of Acceptable documents.
  3. OCAHO States Good Faith Does Not Warrant 25% Mitigation

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In another decision involving a small restaurant in Hamburg, the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) reduced the restaurant’s penalty from $46,657 to $33,725 for four violations of failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms and 67 violations for failing to properly complete I-9 forms. See U.S. v. 3679 Commerce Place, Inc. d/b/a Waterstone Grill, 12 OCAHO no.1296 (2017).

    Since Waterstone Grill admitted liability, the only issue before OCAHO was the amount of the penalties. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used $935 as the baseline penalty per violation based on a violation rate of over 50%. In an unusual twist, ICE found a 25% mitigation was warranted based upon the restaurant’s good faith in preparing the I-9 Forms. Normally, the five statutory factors, including good faith, are worth the 5% mitigation or aggravation. ICE also mitigated by 5% each due to the restaurant’s small size and the 67 employees in Court II were determined to be eligible for employment. ICE aggravated by 5% for the seriousness of the violations.

    Waterstone Grill asserted it deserved mitigation for three of the four employees in Count I because they were authorized to work and several non-statutory factors, including general public policy of leniency toward small businesses, its cooperation with ICE during the investigation, including enrolling in E-Verify, and its inability to pay the $47,000 penalty.

    OCAHO found 25% mitigation for good faith was unwarranted, especially where ICE offered no explanation for the size of the mitigation. However, some mitigation, which was not defined, was warranted. Concerning its inability to pay, OCAHO found it failed to show it could not pay the penalty, but found the proposed penalty should be viewed in light of the company’s financial situation. Although OCAHO found an employer’s post-inspection remedial measures may support mitigation, it declined to find such here.

    OCAHO found ICE failed to prove the employees in Count I were unauthorized to work. OCAHO stated “it does not always follow that a factor found not to be aggravating (which is normally where the factor of unauthorized workers is found) must necessarily and automatically be mitigating.” However, in this case, OCAHO decided this was a mitigating factor.

    OCAHO determined the proposal penalty should be reduced to $475 each for a total penalty of $33,725. As the facts demonstrate, if Waterstone would have performed an internal I-9 audit before ICE arrived with the NOI, most of the I-9 violations could have been corrected and not subject to a penalty.
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