Employment eligibility compliance is serious business for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While the agency can’t police every business every day, it sends strong messages whenever it uncovers companies in violation of immigration laws.
Take Howard Industries, for example. The privately held Mississippi manufacturer recently pled guilty to conspiracy to violate immigration laws and agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine, that largest in state history, after initially denying allegations it had knowingly hired workers without authorization.
In August 2008, the company was raided, and nearly 600 workers, believed to be undocumented at the time, were arrested. The company attempted to wipe its hands clean by saying a human resources manager was single-handedly responsible for the negligence and violations. When the dust eventually settled, the HR manager was handed a 25-count indictment for conspiracy and employee verification fraud and the company was held liable.
This case created headlines in the immigration law world because it magnified the importance of corporate responsibility, and whether or not leadership is aware of illegal practices. ICE has made it extremely clear that employers and their officers/executives could be held liable and face criminal charges for I-9 compliance failures, particularly as it pertains to unauthorized workers. In the case of Howard Industries, the example was made that regardless of who knew about the HR manager’s negligence, the company was ultimately responsible for being compliant. The hand-slap was significant due to the size of the company, the nature of the crime and the number of employees involved.
Which begs the question for all corporate leaders: Are your immigrant hiring practices in compliance with ICE? Not knowing is not acceptable and could be putting your company at a significant risk. If you have any questions about your company’s I-9 compliance, it would be prudent to review every step of your hiring process. It is critically important that senior management has a clear understanding of the company risk in the event even one employee is negligent. Taking steps today to understand and document practices, as well as educating all HR employees about immigration hiring compliance, could prevent your business from facing criminal prosecution and millions in fines.
Our law firm regularly conducts in-house audits to verify I-9, worksite compliance issues and employer obligations. Please contact us if you have any questions about your company’s immigration law compliance practices.