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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Employers Should Review I-9 form for Social Security Number Glitch

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    The USCIS is warning employees about a glitch on the I-9 form if it was downloaded between November 14, 2016 and November 17, 2016. Specifically, numbers entered in the Social Security number field were transposed when employees completed and printed Section 1 using a computer. For example, the number 123-45-6789 entered in the Social Security number field would appear as 123-34-6789 once the form printed. Therefore, employers should review I-9 forms downloaded during this short period of time to ensure your employees’ Social Security numbers appear correctly in Section 1.

    Employers who notice their employees’ Social Security numbers are not written correctly should have their employees draw a line through the transposed Social Security number in Section 1, enter the correct Social Security number, and then initial and date the change. Employers should include a written explanation with Form I-9 about why the correction was made in the event of an audit.

    This glitch was fixed on November 17, 2016 so if you downloaded the I-9 form after the fix, the I-9 forms should not have this glitch.
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