In an era when state and local governments are struggling for resources and facing deep budget cuts due to shrinking tax revenues, the Federal Government is now doling out millions of dollars it has collected from employers found to have violated laws relating to the hiring of undocumented workers. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security and the Obama Administration have narrowed their focus and are pursuing employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers, as well as focusing on large employers that may have technical violations of their Form I-9 employment eligibility verification forms. With the prospect of receiving large monetary payments in exchange for assisting in federal immigration investigations and prosecutions, it will be even easier for the Federal Government to entice state and local agencies to take up the task of enforcing immigration laws.
On January 26, 2010, Kumar Kibble, Deputy Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement regarding ICE’s worksite enforcement efforts implemented since April 2009 when the agency released its worksite enforcement plan. Deputy Director Kibble indicated that in fiscal year 2010, ICE commenced a record 2,746 worksite enforcement investigations, which represents a nearly two-fold increase from the number of cases the agency initiated in FY 2008. Additionally, according to Kibble, in FY 2010 ICE ordered employers to pay fines totaling a whopping $6,956,026, up from $675,209 in FY 2008.
As a recent example of these heavy fines, on January 13, 2011, several state and local law enforcement agencies in New York received funds from the first payment in a record-breaking settlement agreement stemming from IFCO Systems North America’s hiring and employment of undocumented workers prior to April 19, 2006. IFCO Systems is an international logistics service provider with more than 210 locations worldwide. The company operates a pool of more than 102 million Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) around the world and maintains a national network of Pallet-Management-Services in the United States.
The government’s investigation of IFCO began following a February 2005 tip to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) alleging that undocumented workers at IFCO’s Albany, NY pallet plant had been seen destroying W-2 forms. In April 2006, federal and local law enforcement agencies undertook a work site enforcement investigation at 40 of the company’s pallet plants, which revealed 1,181 undocumented workers in the employ of the company. The investigation entailed collaboration between numerous federal and state agencies, including ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations branch, the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor – Wage and Hour Davison, the New York State Police, and the Guilderland Police Department. The operation was conducted pursuant to section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which enables officers and employees of a State or political subdivision of a State to perform “a function of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States.”
The investigation of IFCO reported that managers and employees had harbored and transported undocumented aliens, with possibly as many as 6,000 undocumented foreign nationals having worked at 26 IFCO pallet plants across the United States between 2003 and April 2006. Other violations by the company included not taking significant measures to check employees’ social security numbers (SSNs), failing to address employees’ use of invalid SSNs, and owing back wages due under the Fair Labor Standards Act to piece-wage pallet workers at 30 of IFCO’s plants.
The $2.3 million disbursement came as part of a $6,132,000 payment by IFCO, the first in a series of three shell outs totaling $20,697,317.51. The payment was distributed to the New York State Police, which received $2,207,520; the Albany County District Attorney, which received $61,320; and the Guilderland Police Department, which also received $61,320. In addition to breaking down the payments to be made, the settlement agreement established a pioneering compliance and reporting program for IFCO with the goal of preventing the company from hiring any undocumented workers in the future. The company also agreed to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program to confirm that all new hires have employment authorization in addition to checking the SSNs of all IFCO employees with the Social Security Administration. The U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed not to criminally prosecute IFCO for its employees’ conduct in the period prior to April 2006 if the company remains in full compliance with the settlement agreement, which goes through 2012.
- ICE News Release – Officials announce the distribution of more than $2.3 million to state and local law enforcement in New York.
- AILA Responds to House Worksite Enforcement Hearing – The political gamesmanship has begun with today’s hearing in the House Subcommittee on Immigration. The hearing is an example of backward thinking in tackling America’s broken immigration system. It represents an extension of a policy paradigm that has already failed. AILA Doc. No. 11012662.
- Video: Worksite Enforcement Alone Will Not Fix Broken Immigration System – AILA Executive Director, Crystal Williams, explains why the enforcement-only approach to immigration won’t fix the system and why the House hearings are misguided. We need better laws that make sense for all employers and immigrant workers. AILA Doc. No. 11012664