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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. OCAHO Decides Who and What is Protected from Document Abuse

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC
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    The Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) issued another decision on “document abuse”, which has been renamed “unfair documentary practices”, finding the employer did not commit document abuse against the Charging Party, Doris Rainwater. Rainwater v. Doctor’s Hospice of Georgia, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1300 (Apr. 2017).

    Facts

    Ms. Rainwater was employed as a certified nursing assistant at Doctor’s Hospice for several years. At that time, she was a lawful permanent resident (LPR). In November 2013, Doctor’s Hospice conducted an annual review of its employees’ personnel files to ensure none of its employee documentation, such as certifications, had expired. In this review, the Administrator discovered Ms. Rainwater’s LPR card had expired. Thereafter, Ms. Rainwater was informed she was suspended until she could present a valid LPR card.

    Ms. Rainwater contacted the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practice (OSC) (now renamed Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice), who informed her that Doctor’s Hospice’s action was discriminatory. OSC called Doctor’s Hospice and explained even if a LPR card expires, the individual’s LPR status has not ended. During the suspension, Ms. Rainwater told her supervisor, Ms. Charleston, that she had called the Department of Justice. Ms. Charleston reiterated she could not work with an expired LPR card. (It’s unclear whether this conversation occurred before or after OSC’s call to Doctor’s Hospice). Doctor’s Hospice’s Director of Nursing said she received a phone call from the Department of Justice, who said LPR cards never expire. Several days later, Ms. Rainwater was reinstated, but without back pay for the two weeks off.

    When Ms. Rainwater returned to work, she said most of the managers did not speak to her. One manager, Ms. West, allegedly stated the facility had the “best lawyer” and “nobody beat or play with my lawyers.” She also allegedly said “you should have talked to me about his prior to going to the Department of Justice to complain about these things.”

    On January 8, during an ice storm, a pipe burst at this facility causing a shutdown and the layoff of all employees. On February 27, the facility reopened but it was not fully occupied with patients; thus, two employees were not rehired - Ms. Rainwater and one other employee. Doctor’s Hospice asserted Ms. Rainwater was one of the two employees not rehired because of her poor work record and performance. Thereafter, Ms. Rainwater filed a charge with OSC alleging her failure to be rehired was retaliation and the original suspension was also unlawful.

    Suspension Claim

    OCAHO found Ms. Rainwater’s suspension claim failed because the statute only “prohibits an employer from discriminating with respect to hiring, recruitment, referral or discharge.” The statute does not cover certain employment actions, such as suspension, compensation, or shift assignments.

    However, Doctor’s Hospice’s actions in requesting an unexpired LPR card from Ms. Rainwater was determined to be an act of document abuse under 8 U.S.C. §1324b(a)(6). However, Ms. Rainwater is not a protected individual under that section because she was not a recent permanent resident. Ms. Rainwater had been a LPR for almost 10 years. To be covered, individuals must have not held LPR status for no longer than six months beyond becoming eligible to naturalize. Ms. Rainwater became eligible to naturalize approximately five years before the request for an unexpired LPR card.

    Failure to be Rehired Claim

    Concerning the failure to rehire Ms. Rainwater to work when the facility reopened, OCAHO found Ms. Rainwater’s evidence did not support her retaliation claim. Initially, OCAHO noted that even though she was not considered a protected individual for the document abuse claim, OCAHO retained jurisdiction over her retaliation claim. Specifically, Ms. Rainwater engaged in protected conduct when she contacted OSC about her suspension due to an expired LPR card. Furthermore, Doctor’s Hospice knew of the contact through Ms. Rainwater telling Doctor’s Hospice and a telephone call from OSC explaining that LPR cards do not expire.

    OCAHO concluded Ms. Rainwater failed to establish a causal link between her protected conduct and the failure to be rehired. Although the time period between the telephone call to OSC and the termination was less than three months, OCAHO found intervening events – the ice storm, closure of the facility, and subsequent reopening of the facility with less than full capacity - broke the claim of causality in the retaliation claim. OCAHO said these events caused the end of Ms. Rainwater’s employment, not retaliation. Furthermore, the fact that Doctor’s Hospice returned Ms. Rainwater to work in December after the phone call to OSC undercut her assertion of a causal link between contacting OSC and her failure to be rehired. Finally, OCAHO found Doctor’s Hospice comments about Ms. Rainwater’s contact with OSC were not sufficient to establish the causal link. Thus, OCAHO dismissed Ms. Rainwater’s retaliation claim.

    This decision is a firm reminder of who is covered and what is covered by Section 1324b cases. Often, employers are so focused on complying with the I-9 requirements, they inadvertently commit citizenship status discrimination under Section 1324b. One idea to combat this problem is to have an immigration compliance attorney conduct a training session on immigration compliance.

  2. 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.
  3. Restaurant Owner Going to Prison for Harboring Undocumented Workers

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    An owner of two restaurants in Ukiah, California, Yaowapha Ritdet, was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison for harboring for profit and corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the internal revenue laws. According to documents filed with the court, Ritdet hired Thai nationals who were illegally present in the United States to work at her restaurants, Ruen Tong Thai Cuisine and Walter Café. Ritdet underpaid these employees, paid them in cash, and instructed them not to speak to anyone about their immigration status. Ritdet also did not pay employment taxes on the cash wages. Ritdet filed false individual income tax returns for 2007 through 2011 that underreported the gross receipts, sales, and income she received from her two restaurants.

    In addition to prison, Ritdet was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay approximately $567,755.65 in restitution, including $70,768 to underpaid employees and $496,987 to the Internal Revenue Service.
  4. OPT STEM Regulation Survives in Lawsuit

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    A federal judge has ruled for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a lawsuit concerning the promulgation of a 2016 regulation extending Optional Practical Training (OPT) by an additional 24 months for eligible STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree holders. (Washington All. of Tech. Workers v. Dept. of Homeland Sec. (D.D.C. Apr. 19, 2017)).

    The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers argued the 2016 regulation exceeded the authority of DHS under several provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Specifically, the Alliance asserted the regulation allows employers to skirt the H-1B temporary visa program for high-skilled workers without providing labor protections for U.S. workers.

    The judge decided the Alliance, which represents U.S. workers who are STEM degree holders, did not show that the DHS had violated the INA in the promulgation of the regulation or the substance of the regulation.

    Despite this favorable ruling in litigation, on a case that has been in the courts for many years, OPT STEM faces uncertainty as to whether the Trump administration will attempt to eliminate or curtail it. Under last week’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, the Secretary of DHS “shall propose new rules and issue new guidance… to protect the interests of United States workers.” Since this language is so broad, Secretary of DHS may propose new rules for OPT STEM. Only time will tell so stay tuned.
  5. USCIS Will Issue Redesigned Green Cards and EADs

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC
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    USCIS announced a redesign to the Permanent Resident card (also known as a Green Card) and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as part of the Next Generation Secure Identification Document Project. USCIS will begin issuing the new cards on May 1, 2017.

    The redesigns use enhanced graphics and fraud-resistant security features to create cards that are more tamper-resistant than the ones currently in use. The new Permanent Resident cards and EADs will:
    1. Display the individual’s photos on both sides;

    2. Show a unique graphic image and color palette:
    a. Green Cards will have an image of the Statue of Liberty and a predominately green palette;
    b. EAD cards will have an image of a bald eagle and a predominately red palette;
    3. Have embedded holographic images;

    4. No longer display the individual’s signature; and

    5. Also, Permanent Resident cards will no longer have an optical stripe on the back.

    Some Permanent Resident cards and EADs issued after May 1, 2017, may still display the existing design format as USCIS will continue using existing card stock until current supplies are depleted.
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