Attorney Anthony Raimondo says ramped-up immigration enforcement and more I-9 audits mean producers must protect themselves.
Despite the uncertainty of immigration reform, dairy producers must protect themselves by complying with current labor protocols, attorney Anthony Raimondo told an audience of dairy producers and industry representatives Tuesday at the 12th annual Elite Producer Business Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.
That compliance starts with being certain your dairy has completed I-9 employment verification forms for all new hires, including U.S. citizens, Raimondo said.
"The I-9 Form gives you a clean, clear way to comply with immigration protocols," Raimondo said. "It’s suicidal not to use them in your business."
Speaking before the audience of some 450 people, Raimondo also emphasized these protocol points:
• Make sure that all staff that process new hires are trained to properly complete the I-9 process.
• Periodically audit I-9s to make sure they are properly processing new hires. Incomplete or improperly completed I-9 Forms will result in exposure to liability.
• Complete the forms at the same point in the employment process for all employees - after you have made the decision to hire the person.
• Be certain you keep I-9 forms on file for three years after the date of hire or for one year after termination of employment, whichever date is later.
The Obama Administration has ramped up spending on immigration enforcement, shelling out $18 billion in fiscal year 2012. "That’s more than was spent by all other federal law enforcement agencies combined," Raimondo said.
Both 2012 and 2011 were record years for deportations. In 2012, nearly 410,000 undocumented immigrants were removed from the U.S., an increase of 14,000 from the previous year. Most have been convicted criminals. At the same time, there have been fewer arrests in the interior U.S., Raimondo said.
While workplace raids were the primary immigration enforcement tool of the Bush Administration, I-9 audits have been the priority of the Obama Administration. These inspections for paper violations focus heavily on employers.
"There were 503 I-9 audits in 2008," Raimondo said. "There were over 8,000 in 2009."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new I-9 Form earlier this year. It’s dated March 8, 2013 and expires March 31, 2016. I-9 Forms dated Feb. 2, 2009 and Aug. 7, 2009 will be accepted until May 7, 2013. After May 7, 2013, only the March 8, 2013 form will be accepted, said Raimondo.
USCIS has issued a helpful handbook for employers, the M-274, which offers guidance for completing the I-9 Form.
While nobody knows what comes next for immigration reform, Raimondo said it’s likely that any new system will require that the employment verification system known as e-Verify will be mandatory.
Pointing to a 2009 survey by the National Milk Producers Federation that indicated that 62% of the nation’s milk supply is produced by immigrant labor, Raimondo said, "That number is low."
"We need an answer" to the immigration problem, Raimondo said, because the consequences of not having immigration reform would be dire for the dairy industry.
"Eliminating immigrant labor would reduce the U.S. dairy herd by 1.34 million head, milk production would decline by 29.5 billion pounds and 4,532 dairy farms would go out of business," he said. "Retail milk prices would increase by an estimated 61%."