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Immigration Prosecutions Continue in the Dairy Industry

Dec 26, 2011

Enforcement of immigration laws against employers remains a priority for ICE, and these recent actions indicate that the dairy industry is squarely in the government’s sight. 

 
Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony Raimondo, attorney
 
On Nov. 8, 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announced that the owners of Aquila Farms, LLC, a Michigan dairy farm, were sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay employer sanctions fines of almost $3 million for hiring unauthorized workers and harboring illegal aliens.
 
ICE alleged that the dairy employed 78 different unauthorized workers from January 2000–October 2007. The key allegation was that the dairy owners failed to fully and accurately complete I-9 forms for new hires.
 
ICE discovered that some employees were hired more than once using different names or Social Security Numbers. ICE also used mismatch notifications from the Social Security Administration to support the claim that the dairy owners knew the workers were undocumented.  According to ICE, the owners encouraged or induced the illegal aliens to reside in the U.S. by providing employment and free housing on the farm, which helped conceal them from anyone who might get suspicious and report them to the authorities. Under the plea agreement, the dairy accepted a $2.7 million dollar fine, and the owners face up to six months in prison.
 
This case follows the 2011 guilty verdict of a dairy farmer in Benton County, Iowa, who was convicted of engaging in a pattern of knowingly employing illegal aliens. As with the more recent case, the dairy was convicted of harboring illegal aliens because it provided housing for the employees. 
 
In November 2001, the Iowa dairy hired a husband and wife who were undocumented illegal aliens from Mexico. According to reports, the workers provided some documents that led their employer to believe they were legal. The couple were good employees, and a few years later, the dairy hired another member of the family. But the dairy’s health insurance provider refused coverage because the employee’s identity could not be confirmed.
 
Trying to assist the workers, the employer met with an immigration attorney attempting to legalize their status. This effort failed, largely because it is extremely difficult and almost impossible, for a worker who enters the country illegally to legalize his/her status without returning to his/her home country and entering the U.S. legally.  Ultimately, meeting with the lawyer provided ICE with powerful evidence that the dairy owners knew the workers were undocumented.  The dairy was fined $150,000.
 
Enforcement actions are continuing, and a dairy farmer in Chenango County, New York agreed in December 2011 to pay a $3,000 fine for employing undocumented workers.
 
Enforcement of immigration laws against employers remains a priority for ICE, and these recent actions indicate that the dairy industry is squarely in the government’s sight. It is critical that dairy owners do not ignore this problem and pretend it does not exist.  Employers can comply with the law, and can protect themselves from immigration violations, but they must be sure to have proper procedures and protocols in place. 

At minimum, every dairy should take the following steps:
 
  • Understand the I-9 process in detail and study the I-9 form until you are familiar with it.  Make sure you are using the current I-9 form.
  • Read and understand the I-9 “Handbook for Employers” (Form M-274), available at http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/m-274.pdf.
  • Make sure that I-9s are fully and accurately completed for all new hires.
  • Make sure that employees who process I-9s are properly trained.
  • Have a protocol in place to respond to Social Security mismatch notifications.  Do not fire anyone just because you receive one of these letters, but make sure you do not ignore them.
  • Do not allow employees to change their names and Social Security numbers.
  • If an employee admits that he or she is undocumented, immediately fire the person.  Simply ask yourself if you are willing to lose your dairy or even go to prison to protect that person’s job.
  • Seek legal advice immediately if you are audited or investigated by ICE.
 
Dairies can be successful and can have confidence that they are in compliance with the law.  But they must be proactive and committed to the I-9 process.  Otherwise, the consequences can be dire. 
 
The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at McCormick Barstow LLP in Fresno, at (559)433-1300.
 
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