Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) served Jula888, LLC (Para Tacos La Chilanga) on August 4, 2014 with Notice of Inspection (NOI) which required production of the Forms I-9 for its employees, along with other business documents by August 7, 2014. On August 13, 2014, Jula888, through their attorney, notified ICE that no records were available to be produced. On December 15, 2014, ICE served Jula888 with Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF) with one count, alleging 32 violations of 8 USC 1324(a)(1)(B). Specifically, failure to prepare and/or present Forms I-9 for 32 employees. ICE proposed a fine of $34,408.00. Jula888 timely filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO). ICE filed its complaint incorporating the violations included in the NIF, including the proposed fine. On September 21, 2015, Jula888 filed its prehearing statement, agreeing to the first six proposed stipulations, but not the seventh which concerned whether or not the 32 individuals were in fact employees of the company. On December 18, 2015, ICE filed a Motion for Summary Decision contending that it has it burden demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to Jula888’s liability for the 32 violations. Jula888 filed a Response to the government’s Motion for Summary Decision on January 20, 2016 arguing that the Government has not presented any evidence regarding the number of people employed by Jula888. On June 9, 2016, the ALJ ordered the parties to submit additional evidence. Jula888 did not provide any additional evidence. The evidence from ICE included testimony from former employees confirming the number of employees at each location and sworn statements from current employees confirming the number of employees, the fact that they were undocumented and that wages were withheld to pay smuggling fees. Based on the evidence in the record, OCAHO granted the government’s motion but adjusted the fines as a matter of discretion to an amount close to the maximum of permissible penalties.
On Monday, August 11, 2016, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a $226,000 fine again Employer Solutions Staffing Group (ESSG) in a ruling that determined that it was not at that time a violation for an employer to have one of its agents inspect original employee documents in Texas and have an employer representative in Minnesota complete the employer attestation in Section 2 of the Form I-9 after reviewing the photocopies of the documents sent by the agent in Texas. In the underlying cases, ICE alleged that ESSG failed to ensure that 242 employees properly completed Section 1 of the Form I-9 or failed to properly complete Section 2 or 3 of the Form I-9, thereby committing substantive I-9 violations. The 5th Circuit said that the INA was unclear as to whether the same person who reviews the original documents must also complete Section 2 or 3 of the Form I-9 and that therefore, it was reasonable to conclude that the attestations were valid as long as the same “entity” both reviews the original documents and completes the Form I-9 attestation. They also found that neither the regulations or the Form I-9 current at that time provided any additional guidance. Indeed, after fining ESSG, but before the Court made its decision, ICE changed the Form I-9 instructions to make it clear that the same person who examines the document must be the same person that signs the Form I-9. Employers who may be in the situation for Forms I-9 completed before 2013 should contact an immigration attorney to determine if the 5th Circuit decision affects their situation. See Employer Solutions Staffing Group v. OCAHO, No. 15-60173 (5th Cir. Aug. 11, 2016).
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) increased the possible fines and penalties for employers with I-9 employment eligibility violations including the employment of unauthorized workers and/or employers who have violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These increases are due to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 which was enacted in late November 2015 and will take effect on August 1st for violations that took place after November 2, 2015.
Under the interim final rule, the minimum penalty for employment of an unauthorized worker will jump from $375 to $539 and the maximum penalty will jump from $3,200 to $4,313. Those with multiple violations may face a penalty of $21,563. I-9 paperwork violations will increase from a maximum of $1,100 to $2,156 while the new top penalty for unfair immigration-related employment practices violations will increase to $3,563.
I-9 and employment Immigration related violations are enforced by the DOJ through the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices and the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer.
The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found International Packaging Inc., a Minnesota-based promotional marketing company liable for failing to prepare or present Forms I-9 for 21 of its employees and for substantive errors found in 73 Forms I-9. Form I-9 is used to confirm an employee’s identity and work authorization. Fines have yet to be levied but the government is arguing for baseline penalties of $935 for each violation. The judged stated that employers may be entitled to a “good faith” defense for paperwork technical or procedural violations but that defense has no application to substantive violations, such as those in this case. This is the second recent decision against a Minnesota employer by OCAHO. Last week, as we blogged, Golden Employment Group Inc. was found liable for over 465 Form I-9 violations.
The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), recently found a temporary employment company, Golden Employment Group Inc., located in Minnesota, liable for over 465 I-9 violations (United States of America v. Golden Employment Group Inc., OCAHO Case Number 15A00037). Specifically, the Judge found that they failed to timely present 125 Form I-9s and failed to prepare 236 Form I-9s. They also racked up fines for not making sure the employee completed Section 1 of the Form I-9 and other infractions. 40 claims were dismissed because Immigration and Customs Enforcement failed to overcome its burden of proof. This case serves as a warning that use of E-Verify does not protect an employer from failing to properly prepare, retain, re-verify and present when asked a Form I-9 for employees hired after November 6, 1986.
Louisiana Crane & Construction LLC, which provides oilfield services, has agreed to pay $165,000 in civil penalties and create a $50,000 fund to pay workers who lost wages because of the company’s policy requiring workers who were not U.S. citizens to provide additional documents during the Form I-9 employment verification process. The company will also be required to conduct anti-discrimination training and be subject to monitoring for two year.
The Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from requiring additional documents from workers during the employment eligibility verification process based on their citizenship status
This case is serves as evidence that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) is continuing to ramp up its activities thanks in part to a 2010 agreement requiring the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to refer discrimination matters to the OSC, along with any relevant information from the E-Verify system. As such, employers should be very careful to properly follow the employment verification regulations regarding proper completion of a Form I-9 and use of the E-Verify system.
The case is U.S. v. Louisiana Crane Co. LLC, case number 14B00102, before the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer.
The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) reduced the penalty for Liberty Packaging, Inc. after finding that although backdating I-9 forms is a serious violation, Liberty Packaging Inc. (Liberty) is a small employer with no history of previous violations and the unauthorized status of the five individuals listed in the NSD was not established. (U.S. v. Liberty Packaging, Inc., 2/24/15) .
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) filed a complaint alleging that Liberty failed to timely prepare 18 forms I-9 in violation of Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). ICE served Liberty with a Notice of Inspection (NOI) on July 31, 2012 and subsequently conducted a Form I-9 inspection in response to which Liberty provided an employee list, recent payroll records and 21 forms I-9. On September 25, 2012, ICE served Liberty with a Notice of Suspect Documents (ND) and a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF) on March 20, 2013. Liberty’s answer was accompanied by a different set of 19 I-9s. ICE filed their complain with OCAHO on January 2, 2014.
For various reasons discussed in the opinion, ICE asserted that Liberty backdated the forms I-9. As such, they set a baseline penalty of $935 for each of the 18 violations and enhancements totaling 15% were added for bad faith, seriousness of the violations and presence of unauthorized workers. OCAHO in its opinion found that although an employer may not have done anything wrong, they are responsible for the wrongs that may be perpetrated by their agents of a form I-9. Notwithstanding, OCAHO determined that ICE failed to show that the penalties should be enhanced based on the presence of allegedly unauthorized workers in Liberty’s workforce and that a NSD is not sufficient in itself to establish a worker’s unauthorized status. As such, OCAHO reduced the penalty to a rate of $650 for each of the 18 violations.
Several lessons to be learned:
1. Never backdate a Form I-9.
2. Never fire an individual who is listed on the NSD without first allowing them to present other evidence of work eligibility and identity.
3. A NSD is not enough to determine a worker’s unauthorized status.
4. Always cooperate with ICE and retain the services of an immigration attorney with extensive experience with I-9 compliance.
OCAHO ordered a California-based Liberty Packaging Inc. to pay $12000 for acting in bad faith by backdating 18 I-9 forms following a NOI (Notice of Inspection). The fine was lowered from $17000 by an Administrative Law Judge because they were a small employer with no previous violations.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement became suspicious because markings on some of the forms implied that they had been completed after the respective date of hire. The case is USA v. Liberty Packaging Inc., Case Number 14A00027, before the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Immigration Review, Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO).
In a recent case, U.S. v. Keegan Variety, LLC, 11 OCAHO no. 1238 (2014), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spent tens of thousands of dollars (think daily salaries of the investigators, the Judge and his/her staff) to collect $500 from an employer for two I-9 violations. Keegan Variety is a mom-and-pop convenience store in Van Buren, Maine on the Canadian border. The store employed only two people – a mother and cousin of the owners. While we understand that regulations regarding employment verification and work authorization must be followed, there is something to be said for wasting the taxpayers money to prosecute small family owned businesses. Maybe a written warming would have been appropriate in this situation. However, the moral of the story for each and every employer is that obviously the U.S. government is not above wasting the taxpayers’ money to prosecute you for violating I-9 regulations, no matter your size. For further information, please contact us for more information on how you can remain I-9 compliant. To read the case I am discussing above, please see: http://www.justice.gov/eoir/OcahoMain/publisheddecisions/Looseleaf/Volume11/1238.pdf.
Golf International DBA Desert Canyon Golf, an E-Verify employer, was found liable for 129 Form I-9 violations by the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Office (OCAHO). This included 125 violations consisting of failure to ensure that employees properly completed Section 1 of Form I-9 and/or failure to properly completing Section of Form I-9 and four violations consisting of failure to prepare and/or present Forms I-9. The total fine was $136,697.00. In its decision, OCAHO made it clear that the good faith defense is only available for technical and procedural Form I-9 violations and that participation in E-Verify DOES NOT exempt an employer from properly completing, retaining and producing for inspection Forms I-9 that relate to its employees. This is a good reminder that all employers should audit their Forms I-9 and review any internal procedures regarding the proper completion and retention of their Forms I-9 on a regular basis. Remember – An employer’s first and most important responsibility is to properly complete a Form I-9 for each new employee regardless of whether or not they use E-Verify.