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March 2011

Employers and Managers Can Face Substantial Sanctions for Employing Undocumented Workers

On August 25, 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided a Mississippi plant where over 400 hundred employees were detained. Most of those employees were subsequently deported. 

The employer was charged with knowingly and willfully conspiring to encourage and induce undocumented workers to reside in the U.S. and knowingly conspiring to conceal, harbor and shield from detection such workers. The employer pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and was required to pay a fine of $2.5 million.

On March 3, 2011, Jose Humberto Gonzales, the Human Resources manager, was sentenced by a Mississippi court to six months of home confinement in connection with his December 2009 guilty plea for knowingly employing and harboring hundreds of undocumented workers. This case reflects how serious violations of immigration law can be for both employers and their managers. 

The employer's Human Resource manager, Gonzales, was charged individually with conspiring to harbor hundreds of undocumented workers. Gonzales faced a maximum of 5 years of imprisonment on the conspiracy charge and on each employee verification fraud count, a minimum of 2 years of imprisonment for an aggravated identity theft charge and fines of up to $250,000. Gonzales subsequently admitted that he hired hundreds of workers that he knew were not authorized to work in the United States. Gonzales hired workers regardless whether the social security numbers submitted to the Social Security Administration (E-Verify) were confirmed as valid. Gonzales also advised undocumented workers to obtain I-9 documentation even when he knew the employees were undocumented and could not present valid and non-fraudulent documentation. Further, Gonzales advised his Spanish-speaking workers that he would inform them in advance of any immigration raid. 

Concededly, this case is an extreme example, but it makes clear that an employer needs to develop a comprehensive I-9 policy and ensure that that policy is scrupulously observed by all employees, especially managers. Thus, we advise employers to contact experienced counsel to review their I-9 policies and train management to comply with that policy so as to minimize any potential exposure the employer and their managers may face for violating immigration law.

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