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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. H-1B Employer Allowed to Deduct Attorney Fees in This Case

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    A Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that an employer who deducted an H-1B visa holder’s attorney’s fees from the employee’s accrued vacation time did not violate the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Administrator, Wage and Hour Division, Department of Labor v. Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society.

    Woodman Life hired Oscar Garcia initially under TN non-immigrant visa status. Later, Woodmen Life submitted an H-1B visa to the USCIS, which was approved. After approval, Woodmen Life and Garcia entered into an agreement whereby Garcia would repay certain expenses, including attorney’s fees, related to the H-1B petition. When Garcia’s employment ended, based upon Garcia’s resignation, he received a final paycheck which deducted $5,800 for attorney’s fees from $9,644 which was owed for accrued but unused vacation.

    The DOL Administrator filed suit against Woodmen Life alleging $4,575 was unlawfully deducted from Garcia’s wages. (DOL determined $1,225 for premium processing was included in the $5,800 and was an allowable expense to be paid by Garcia.) The Administrator stated the $4,575 deducted from Garcia’s last paycheck was not allowed because it took his wages below the required wage. Woodmen Life asserted Garcia’s final paycheck did not fall below the required wage because Garcia’s vacation pay was accrued and did not affect the required wage. Under Woodmen Life’s vacation policy, if an employee resigns or is terminated, “accrued but unpaid vacation leave” will be paid in the final paycheck. Furthermore, Woodmen Life stated it treated Garcia the same as other employees who owed money to the company, such as for a tuition repayment plan.

    Under the statute, employers are prohibited from seeking repayment of H-1B attorney’s fees and expenses from the required wage. However, the ALJ found in this case the $4,575 was not deducted from the required wage; rather, it was deducted from Garcia’s benefits. The ALJ found the statute allowed this type of deduction, especially where it was consistent with Woodmen Life’s policy of repayment for certain expenses from accrued but unused vacation time.
  2. IER Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Florida Company

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
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    The Justice Department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, reached an agreement with Brickell Financial Services Motor Club, Inc., d/b/a Road America Motor Club, Inc. (Road America), headquartered in Miami, Florida. The settlement resolves the IER’s investigation into whether the company violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by discriminating against work-authorized immigrants when verifying their work authorization.

    The IER concluded, based on its investigation, that Road America routinely requested that lawful permanent residents show their Permanent Resident Cards to prove their work authorization but did not request specific documents from U.S. citizens. The investigation further revealed that Road America required lawful permanent resident employees to re-establish their work authorization when their Permanent Resident Cards expired, even though federal rules prohibit this practice. The antidiscrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on the employees’ citizenship or national origin.

    Under the settlement, Road America will pay a civil penalty of $34,200 and pay $1,044 to compensate a worker who lost wages due to its unfair documentary practices. Road America has also agreed to post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s antidiscrimination provision, train their human resources personnel, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.

    Unfortunately, the errors made by Road America are common among many employers. A good immigration training program could avoid these mistakes.
  3. OCAHO Decides Who is Protected from Document Abuse

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) issued an interesting decision involving “document abuse” which was recently renamed “unfair documentary practices” in the new regulations. U.S. v. Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1298 (March 2017). It was a split decision with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for OCAHO finding Mar-Jac Poultry committed many document abuse violations while other allegations were not document abuse.

    The case started with a charge filed by Edwin Morales, a TPS recipient, with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practice (OSC) alleging document abuse. Thereafter, OSC informed Mar-Jac that it was expanding its investigation to include “a possible pattern or practice of document abuse against non-U.S. citizens.”

    Based on its investigation, the OSC filed a complaint with OCAHO alleging in Count I – Mar-Jac committed document abuse against Morales and “other similarly situated persons” and Count II – Mar-Jac engaged in a “pattern or practice of discrimination in the hiring and Employment Eligibility Verification Process.”

    In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Mar-Jac argued the statute only prohibits document abuse as it relates to protected individuals - U.S. citizens (USCs), recent lawful permanent residents (LPRs), refugees and asylees. Since Morales was a TPS recipient with an Employment Authorization card (EAD), Mar-Jac argued he was not protected regarding the document abuse allegations. The ALJ determined that “claims of document abuse with an intent or purpose of discriminating against an individual based on citizenship status is limited to claims against statutorily-defined protected individuals as defined in 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(6).” Since Morales was on TPS, the ALJ agreed with Mar-Jac’s defense that Morales was not a protected individual.

    Concerning Count II – whether Mar-Jac engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination, Mar-Jac conceded its HR employees required potential applicants to present a photo ID and a Social Security card in order to obtain an employment application. Without such, Mar-Jac did not provide them with an application.

    Also, if a person checked a box on Section 1 of the I-9 form as a LPR or authorized to work and presented Lists B and C documents, such as a driver’s license and Social Security card, respectively, the Mar-Jac HR employee would request the LPR card or EAD. Mar-Jac’s witnesses stated this request was made to make sure the card was valid and they believed E-Verify required non-USCs to present their LPR card or EAD. The witnesses acknowledged they were mistaken in their beliefs. Mar-Jac conceded USCs were not requested to present a particular document.

    Mar-Jac argued it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, to verify the correct box was marked in Section 1, when its HR employees asked non-USCs to see their List A document – LPR card or EAD. Mar-Jac asserted it followed this practice in order to have Sections 1 and 2 accurately completed and to avoid non-compliance with the completion of the I-9 form, which could cause civil and criminal liability. Mar-Jac also argued it required non-USCs to present a List A document because of a mistaken belief that E-Verify required it; thus, it had no discriminatory intent. Furthermore, Mar-Jac asserted requests related to E-Verify are not covered by 8 U.S.C. § 1324b; thus, no violations should be found.

    To establish a case of document abuse, the decision stated a complainant must show (1) “that, in connection with the employment verification process required by 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b), an employer has requested from the employee more or different documents than those required or has rejected otherwise acceptable valid documents and (2) that either of these actions was undertaken for the purpose or with the intent of discriminating against the employee on account of the employee’s national origin or citizenship status.”

    One of the issues in the case was the requisite intent required to prove the violations. The OSC asserted U.S. v. Life Generations, a 2014 OCAHO decision, stated an intent to discriminate means that a person “would have acted differently but for the protected characteristic.” Mar-Jac argued it had no intent to discriminate because a significant portion of its workforce were non-USCs. Furthermore, their actions were merely designed to “assist the applicant in satisfying the requirements of the Form I-9.” The ALJ stated discriminatory intent does not require “malice, ill will, or a malevolent nature.” Thus, Mar-Jac’s arguments were without merit.

    The ALJ concluded the testimony of Mar-Jac’s HR employees established direct evidence of discriminatory intent – the requests to see a DHS-issued document, LPR card or EAD, was motivated by the individual’s LPR or work-authorized status. Thus, the ALJ found the company “engaged in prohibited documentary practices by virtue of both specifying the kind of document that a new hire had to present, and requesting an additional document when a new hire sufficiently presented Lists B and C documents. Moreover, Mar-Jac’s documentary practices were carried out for the purposes of satisfying employment verification requirements of 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b).”

    As for Mar-Jac’s remaining defense that it completed Section 1 as the preparer/translator and thus it needed to verify the information listed to avoid civil and criminal liability, the ALJ stated, “Although the preparer/translator attestation in Section 1 requires an attestation that the information contained therein is true and correct to the best of the preparer/translator’s knowledge, that standard does not require absolute metaphysical certainty – or even actual knowledge – regarding the information from the preparer/translator and in no way requires an employer to ask to see a document to verify the information.”

    Therefore, the OCAHO ALJ found Mar-Jac committed the violations alleged in Count II. A determination on the civil penalties and back pay were left for a later time. Furthermore, Mar-Jac has the right to appeal the ALJ’s decision to the Chief Judge of OCAHO.

    This decision shows employees can be mistaken on the proper manner to complete the I-9 form. Therefore, it is crucial that employers obtain regular training from immigration counsel on immigration compliance issues.
  4. Waste Management Supervisors Going to Prison for Unlawful Hiring Scheme

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    Two low-level Houston supervisors of Waste Management, Rudy Martinez and Israel Arquimides Martinez, were sentenced to over seven years in federal prison for stealing the identities of U.S. citizens and using them to hire more than 100 undocumented workers. The men both face deportation upon completion of their prison sentences.

    The two men were convicted by a federal jury in April 2016 of 18 counts, including knowingly conspiring to employ unauthorized immigrants, encouraging them to reside in the U.S., and aggravated identity theft. Additionally, Rudy Martinez, was convicted of obstruction of justice by testifying falsely under oath and threatening a witness. Three higher ranking managers at Waste Management took plea deals and were called to testify by the prosecution.

    The undocumented workers involved in the identity theft scheme worked at a site run by a Waste Management subcontractor. The workers were fired and then rehired in 2012 with other people's identities. Some of these workers, who face deportation, also testified about the hiring scheme.

    This is another example of the potential for criminal liability if one knowingly hires many undocumented workers, especially where identity theft is used.
  5. ICE’s Failure to Establish Hire and Termination Dates Leads to Dismissal of Some Claims

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    Although the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found Metropolitan Enterprises committed 189 violations and were fined $151,200, it could have been worse as OCAHO dismissed 20 allegations for the failure of ICE to establish employment during the audited period. U.S. v. Metropolitan Enterprises, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1297 (March 2017).

    The case started in the usual way with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) serving a Notice of Inspection (NOI), seeking I-9 forms for current and terminated employees for a two-year period. Nine months later, ICE issued a Notice of Intent to Fine with Count I alleging 156 violations for various errors in completion of the I-9 forms – no employee signature, no employer signature, blank section 2, and no status box checked, and Count II – failure to prepare/present 53 Form I-9s.

    ICE sought a penalty of $195,649 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 (over 50% of the I-9 forms were in error). It aggravated the penalty by 5% for the seriousness of the violation and mitigated the penalty by 5% for good faith. ICE also alleged five employees were undocumented and aggravated by 5% for those 5 Form I-9s.

    Although ICE proffered a company payroll register for the two-year period of the NOI, this document did not provide hiring and termination dates. Without such, it is impossible to determine whether Metropolitan was required to retain the I-9 forms of the terminated employees, (Remember if the employee has worked there for over three years, an employer is only required to retain the I-9 form for a year from termination). The ALJ stated “mind reading is not an accepted tool of judicial inquiry.” Despite this shortcoming, OCAHO could discern the applicable dates for 189 employees out of the 209 employees.

    However, OCAHO could not discern the hiring and termination dates of 20 employees; therefore, it could not determine whether Metropolitan was required under the law to retain their I-9 forms. Based on this, OCAHO dismissed 20 of the allegations.

    Concerning the mitigation of the penalties, OCAHO did not find good faith based upon “wide spread, fundamental errors, which as a whole, have undermined the purpose of the employment verification system.” Furthermore, OCAHO declined to find five employees were undocumented because the ICE auditor did not identify the databases that he searched nor provided any details regarding how he conducted the searches.

    OCAHO concluded the penalties proposed by ICE “while arguably defensible, are slightly disproportionate to the overall extent of the violations.” Thus, OCAHO set the penalties at $800 per violation rather than $935 per violation.

    This decision was interesting because it detailed ICE’s failure to provide the appropriate facts to established some of the allegations and OCAHO’s astonishment that ICE considered Metropolitan’s conduct would warrant good faith mitigation.
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