Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Federal Crackdown Targets Employers That Employ Undocumented Workers

By Christopher S. Andre

The Los Angeles Times reports here that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") agency, the largest investigative agency in the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") is conducting a crackdown on employers that knowingly hire or retain undocumented workers. Alleged violators are being prosecuted in Federal court by the United States Attorney.

A press release issued by the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California announced an indictment against a San Diego French gourmet restaurant and bakery, its owner, and manager. The indictment alleges a variety of misdemeanor and felony charges against the restaurant, its owner, and a manager. In addition to the criminal charges, which carry maximum term of five years in prison per count and a fine of $250,000 per count, the government is also seeking to seize the restaurant and the property on which it is located.

Based on the press release, one of the bases for the charges is the restaurant, its owner, and a manager allegedly continued to employ some allegedly undocumented workers after receiving "no-match" letters from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") and paid those employees in cash after receiving those "no-match" letters.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the Obama administration's new "strategy contrast sharply with that of the Bush administration," which focused on arresting and deporting illegal workers and prosecuted few employers. The Times reports that "Obama called those raids ineffective and criticized them for dividing families and not holding employers accountable for creating a magnet for illegal crossers."

In light of the above, employers should take seriously "no-match" letters they might receive from SSA. An employer that receives a "no-match" letter and continues to employ the subject employee without taking further appropriate action appears to be at risk of being charged by the government with knowingly employing an undocumented employee.

Employers seeking to reduce the likelihood of unknowingly hiring undocumented workers can also enroll in the DHS' E-Verify program, "an Internet-based system that allows an employer, using information reported on an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to determine the eligibility of that employee to work in the United States." The DHS notes that the E-Verify is for most employers "voluntary and limited to determining the employment eligibility of new hires only. There is no charge to employers to use E-Verify."

Click here to read the Los Angeles Times article.