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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

Has the Trump Administration Revived ICE Raids?

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By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in conjunction with the IRS and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, raided Southeastern Provisions, a slaughterhouse near Morristown, Tennessee on April 5, 2018. The raid was pursuant to a criminal search warrant issued by a Federal judge in Eastern District of Tennessee earlier in the week.

In so doing, ICE/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initially detained 97 workers, who were transported to a local armory. Of the 97 detained, 86 were put into ICE detention, 10 were arrested on federal criminal charges, and one was arrested on state charges. Later, 32 individuals were released from ICE custody due to a review of their biometrics, which established legal status or were released on their recognizance due to being a single parent with children at home.

Additionally, the government seized lots of records and documents related to the company’s finances and payroll. After a review of these records and documents, it is expected the federal government will charge Southeastern Provisions with knowingly employing undocumented workers and various tax fraud offenses.

This raid is very unusual in that ICE has not conducted any such large raids since August 2008, when it raided Howard Industries in Laurel, Mississippi. For the past 10 years, ICE has executed many so-called “silent raids” through the delivery of a Notice of Inspection (NOI)/subpoena. As an example, in January 2018, ICE appeared at 98 of 7-Eleven convenience stores nationwide to deliver NOIs. However, these were not raids pursuant to federal criminal search warrant.

ICE released a statement about the Southeastern Provisions “operation” which stated HSI encountered “individuals who are determined to be subject to removal, will be administratively arrested and placed in removal proceedings."

One of my initial questions was why the IRS was involved in the raid. A 26-page affidavit from an IRS Special Agent filed in federal court to obtain a criminal search warrant gives insight as to what led to the IRS’s involvement in the raid. It was due to probable cause to believe the company violated federal law by filing false tax returns, willfully failing to collect federal employment taxes, and evading the assessment and payment of other federal employment taxes.

According to the affidavit, federal authorities were originally tipped off by bank employees about large cash withdrawals from Citizens Bank in Morristown made by management/owners of Southeastern Provisions. When bank employees questioned the transactions, the affidavit said they were told the cash was used for payroll. Investigators say $25 million in cash was withdrawn from the bank accounts beginning in 2008. Thereafter, for an unknown reason, bank officials toured the slaughterhouse in December 2016 and they were told by management that most of their employees were Hispanic and paid weekly in cash.

The affidavit also states multiple withdrawals of more than $100,000 were made from Southeastern Provisions bank accounts. On IRS forms, Southeastern Provisions reported only 44 employees to the government. But based on aerial surveillance, 87 vehicles were found parked at the plant, leading authorities to believe the plant was employing 30-40 more undocumented immigrants. Using numbers from the investigation, the government estimated if Southeastern Provisions had properly reported wages to the IRS, they would have an additional $2.5 million payroll taxes from 2013-2016 on top of what they had already paid.

Besides this information, the government use a confidential informant (referred to as CI-1 in the affidavit), who was hired by Southeastern Provisions. According to CI-1, he never completed any paperwork, such as an I-9 form, nor was he required to show any identification or documentation of lawful status before being hired. The informant said he was told he didn't need a lawful identity to work at the company. He also reported he was paid in cash. Additionally, the production workers were required to work overtime without being paid extra for their overtime hours, according to the informant.

After the workers were detained, they were taken to a local armory for processing. The individuals who remain detained at the local armory have been taken to an ICE detention facility in Louisiana. Each will appear in Immigration Court, if not already the subject of a prior removal/deportation order. In Immigration Court, the detainees will be able to seek a bond to be posted for their release. There will also be hearings to determine whether there is a legal basis, such as Adjustment of Status, Cancellation of Removal, or asylum, to lawfully remain in the U.S. and obtain a green card.

The looming question that this raid raises – does this mean ICE raids at employer facilities are back and will be used in worksite enforcement. Only time will tell. I will keep you updated.

If you want to know more information on employer immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.

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