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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. OCAHO Substantially Reduces Employer’s Penalties

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In new ALJ James McHenry’s first decision, U.S. v. International Packaging, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1275a (Nov. 2016), the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) reduced the penalties proposed by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) from $88,825 to $38,050 for the 94 Form I-9 violations committed by International Packaging, Inc. (IPI).

    Notice of Inspection and NIF

    IPI was served with a Notice of Inspection and subpoena on February 17, 2011. On February 23, 2011, IPI produced some but not all its I-9 forms, inadvertently failing to produce 21 Form I-9s. ICE states it did not even learn of the existence of more employees until it examined IPI’s payroll records. After ICE requested nine of the 21 Form I-9s – all current employees – IPI complied.

    On August 16, 2011, ICE issued a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF). ICE alleged in Count I that IPI failed to produce 21 Form I-9s, and in Count II alleged that on 73 occasions, the company failed to enter certain data, such as document title, identification number or expiration date, in Lists A, B or C of Section 2. IPI failed to present any documentation attached to the I-9 forms. Thus, ICE asserts these are substantive errors, not technical ones, citing the Virtue Memorandum. IPI asserts that the supporting documentation was requested in a cover letter, not a subpoena; thus, ICE had “insufficient process” to allege these violations where the documentation, if presented, would have established these errors were technical.

    For the 94 Form I-9 violations, ICE asserted a baseline penalty of $935 with a 5% mitigating factor due to IPI’s small size and a 5% aggravating factor for the seriousness of the offenses; the remaining three statutory factors were treated by ICE as neutral.

    Earlier OCAHO Decision

    In an earlier decision, U.S. v. International Packaging, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1275 (Apr. 2016), OCAHO sided with ICE and found nothing in the Virtue Memorandum requires an employer to copy and provide documents; rather, it is simply an affirmative defense. OCAHO found there was no conflict between 8 C.F.R. § 1324a.(b)(3) and the Virtue Memorandum. In this case, the employer did not provide the supporting documentation with the I-9 forms to ICE; therefore, the errors in Lists A, B and C were substantive. Furthermore, OCAHO found ICE is not required to ask for any supporting documentation; it is up to the employer to provide such and raise as an affirmative defense.

    IPI’s Defenses

    IPI asserted it demonstrated good faith before, during and after ICE’s audit. It specifically referenced IPI’s consultation with an immigration attorney several years before the audit on how to ensure compliance with the law. OCAHO found this reliance may have inadvertently caused subsequent confusion in ICE’s investigation – by failure to supply the backup supporting documentation for the I-9 Forms, which contributed to some of the violations. However, such reliance did demonstrate good-faith, which warrants some mitigation of the penalty.

    OCAHO’s Decision

    Furthermore, IPI asserted through affidavits and financial documents that it could not afford to pay the proposed penalties and remain in business. Despite unclear financial records regarding the company’s financial condition and conclusory testimony, ALJ McHenry took the company’s finances into account because calculation of penalties is to be sufficiently meaningful for future compliance, not to force an employer out of business. Finally, ALJ McHenry cited IPI’s small size and the public policy of leniency toward small businesses.

    Based upon these factors, OCAHO determined the penalty for failure to prepare and/or present I-9 Forms should be set at $500 per violation, rather than $935. As for the 73 substantive paperwork violations, OCAHO assessed those violations at $350 each.

    Takeaway

    IPI’s willingness to litigate the matter was advantageous from a financial perspective as it reduced the penalties by $50,000 or over 50%. This was despite losing on the initial legal issue of not being required to produce supporting documentation because it was not subpoenaed.
  2. EOIR Announces New ALJ for OCAHO

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced the appointment of James McHenry as an administrative law judge (ALJ) in EOIR’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), effective November 14, 2016. The arrival of ALJ McHenry will provide OCAHO with a permanent ALJ to replace one ALJ, Ellen Thomas, who retired, and another ALJ, who transferred out of OCAHO.

    OCAHO adjudicates cases of hiring of undocumented workers, I-9 verification violations, complaints of discrimination based on an individual’s citizenship status or national origin or overdocumentation in the employment eligibility verification process, and allegations of immigration*-related document fraud.

    ALJ McHenry earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1997 from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a Juris Doctor degree in 2003 from Vanderbilt University. Prior to his appointment to OCAHO, Mr. McHenry was an ALJ for the Social Security Administration. Before that, Mr. McHenry served in a variety of capacities with the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
    Tags: alj, eoir, i-9, ocaho Add / Edit Tags
  3. Company Off the Hook for Over $1.4 Million in Penalties

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In an unusual case, the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) granted a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Personnel Plus, Inc. in U.S. v. Spectrum Technical Staffing Services and Personnel Plus, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1291 (Nov. 2016).

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a complaint against Spectrum alleging it committed 2,147 substantive and uncorrected technical errors and sought a penalty of over $1.4 million. A few months later, ICE filed a Motion to amend the Complaint to add Personnel Plus as a Respondent. OCAHO granted the motion.
    Personnel Plus filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint asserting it was not a successor or alter ego of Spectrum. Thereafter, Personnel Plus filed a Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment seeking to be removed from the case.

    The underlying legal arguments and facts were somewhat complicated and centered around any relationship between Spectrum and Personnel Plus, and if such existed, whether liability should attach to Personnel Plus. ICE asserted Personnel Plus was a “mere continuation” of Spectrum and thus met an exception to the general rule that a successor company does not acquire the liabilities and obligations of a predecessor company; thus, it cannot be found liable. ICE stated four factors should be considered: (1) continuity of ownership, (2) time lapse between dissolution and formation of the respective companies, (3) continuation of the business, and (4) the assumption of liabilities by the new entity.

    Concerning ownership, Ms. Goslin was the owner of Spectrum while her husband, Mr. McKay, who was divorcing Ms. Goslin, was the owner of Personnel Plus. Although Spectrum initially listed both Ms. Goslin and Mr. McKay as owners, OCAHO accepted corporate documents filed with the state which showed Mr. McKay was not an owner of Spectrum. Second, although Spectrum curtailed its operations after the formation of Personnel Plus, it did not cease to exist as an entity and continued on a scaled-down basis. Finally, there was no evidence of assumption of liabilities by Personnel Plus although ICE stated it was seeking that information in discovery.

    One fact that ICE attempted to use in its favor is that the couple’s divorce decree stated Mr. McKay would receive 55% and Ms. Goslin 45% of profits if either Spectrum or Personnel Plus was sold. However, OCAHO did not find this to constitute common ownership. Another fault cited by ICE was that for a short period of time, Spectrum and Personnel Plus shared office space. However, OCAHO did not find this evidence sufficient to find liability on behalf of Personnel Plus.

    Personnel Plus argued there was not any significant transfer of assets from Spectrum to Personnel Plus, which is required before addressing a “mere continuation” analysis. ICE asserted there was a transfer of assets, but it was unable to provide proof of such, although it felt its discovery requests would provide such proof.

    OCAHO concluded ICE failed to demonstrate a transfer of all or substantially all of Spectrum’s assets to Personnel Plus, which is a prerequisite to establishing corporate successor liability. Assuming arguendo there was a transfer, OCAHO found the record does not show any exception to the general rule that a successor does not acquire the liabilities of the predecessor.

    The case will continue with Spectrum as the only Respondent. I will keep you informed of further developments in this case.
  4. OSC Settles Two Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), an agency within the Department of Justice, reached settlements resolving claims that the Denver Sheriff Department and the Aldine, Texas Independent School District discriminated against work-authorized immigrants in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

    The investigation found that from approximately January 1, 2015 until March 23, 2016, the Denver Sheriff Department discriminated based on citizenship status by requiring applicants for deputy sheriff positions to be U.S. citizens and publishing job postings with U.S. citizenship requirements, in violation of the INA. The INA’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from limiting jobs to U.S. citizens except where the employer is required to do so by law, regulation, executive order or government contract. The Denver Sheriff Department was not subject to one of the INA’s exceptions.

    Under the settlement agreement, the Denver Sheriff Department will pay $10,000 in civil penalties; identify applicants who may have been disqualified from consideration for deputy sheriff positions due to the citizenship requirement and consider these applicants’ qualifications without regards to their citizenship; train its human resources staff on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA by attending an OSC webinar; provide the OSC every 6 months for the next three years the completed I-9 forms of all new hires and all recruiting advertisements; and review and revise its policies and procedures to comply with the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision.

    The other investigation found that Aldine School District required non-U.S. citizens, but not similarly-situated U.S. citizens, to present specific documents when reverifying their employment eligibility once their original documents expired. The INA’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from making specific documentary demands based on citizenship or national origin when verifying or reverifying an employee’s authorization to work.

    As part of the settlement agreement, Aldine School District will pay a $140,000 civil penalty, revise its policies and procedures, and train its human resources staff on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA by attending an OSC webinar.
    In a unique remedy, Aldine School District will implement a three-year program to train students and students’ parents on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision. Specifically, the training program will be focused on educating adult participants in Aldine’s parent literacy/English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, 12th grade students enrolled in certain classes and the school district’s employees.
  5. OCAHO Finds Employees’ TWIC Cards Grounds to Reduce Employer’s Penalties

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    A trucking company, Ideal Transportation, significantly reduced its penalties for I-9 violations due to its truck drivers possessing “Transportation Worker Identification Credential” (TWIC) cards, which were issued by the Transportations Security Administration (TSA). See U.S. v. Ideal Transportation Co., Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1290 (2016).

    Ideal Transportation operates a small intermodal carrier transporting international ocean containers between several ports in the northeast. Its drivers must have TWIC cards because they have unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities and certain vessels at the ports. In order to obtain a TWIC card, an individual must provide biometrics and pass a “security threat assessment” conducted by TSA. Furthermore, one must be a U.S. Citizen or be lawfully in the U.S. In this case, all of Ideal’s truck drivers possessed TWIC cards.

    After Ideal was served with a Notice of Inspection, it reviewed its employees’ I-9 forms and determined they were “soiled, torn and illegible and the information was outdated”; thus, all new I-9 forms were completed. Furthermore, Ideal shredded the existing “soiled” I-9 forms.

    Based upon this background, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) found 12 violations because the I-9 forms were not timely completed. ICE proposed a penalty of $11,220 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 per violation. In its filing with the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), Ideal asserted its drivers had TWIC cards, were U.S. citizens and had completed I-9 forms when initially hired. Thus, it asserted it did not violate the law.

    OCAHO found Ideal’s argument, that the timely prepared I-9 forms and subsequent destruction because they were damaged, was not a valid defense to liability. Although OCAHO recognizes “impossibility” as an affirmative defense to the failure to present I-9 forms when the I-9 forms were unavailable through no fault of the employer, those facts were not presented in this case. Rather, the destruction of the original I-9 forms was attributable to the company’s own actions. Thus, OCAHO found Ideal liable for 12 Form I-9 violations.

    However, OCAHO stated the TWIC cards demonstrated the employees were authorized to work, which undercuts ICE’s argument that Ideal was “at high risk to hire employees that may not be authorized to work.” Furthermore, the TWIC cards demonstrated the lack of seriousness of the violations as well as the company’s good faith.

    OCAHO also found due to Ideal’s very small size, the general public policy of leniency to small business entities should be considered in determining the appropriate penalty. Based upon these factors, OCAHO determined a penalty of $2700 was appropriate.
    Although Ideal greatly reduced its penalty, the lesson to be learned here is not to destroy the original I-9 forms even if you determine the I-9 forms need to be re-done. Instead, attach the original I-9 forms to the new I-9 forms even if they are soiled or torn.
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