In keeping with the recent trend, ABC Professional Tree Services, Inc. (ABC) has become yet another company to hand over an exorbitant amount of money to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for immigration violations. ABC recently agreed to pay $2 million in forfeited funds to DHS following an investigation revealing that 30% of its workforce was undocumented. The $2 million reflects the amount of revenue gleaned from the services provided by ABC’s undocumented workers from 2006 to 2011. The company chose to pay the forfeited funds and adhere to revised immigration compliance procedures so as to avoid criminal prosecution.
ABC, a business that provides vegetation management across the United States, was initially investigated in 2008, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents received complaints that many of the company’s employees were undocumented. The agents conducted traffic stops on ABC crews, detained employees who were determined to be unlawfully present, and reviewed I-9 forms for about 2,500 ABC employees. Those efforts revealed that a significant number of employees had presented invalid personal identification documents at the time of hire and that ABC had falsely attested on I-9s that the work authorization documents presented by new hires appeared genuine. Additionally, the company had consistently failed to take corrective action in response to “no-match” letters received from the Social Security Administration during the employment verification process.

Other companies (and executives) who have been fined by DHS or forfeited significant amounts of money this year include Atrium Companies ($2million), Advanced Containment Systems Inc. (ACSI) ($2 million), Herb Co ($1 million), Sun Drywall and Stucco, Inc. ($225,000), LTCI Ltd.($223,000), and J & J Industrial Supply ($150,000).

As evidenced by the examples above, ICE has maintained a focus over recent years targeting employers with fines and lawsuits, rather than going after undocumented workers themselves. Employers must therefore be vigilant with respect to immigration compliance and work verification practices. Although some companies have been guilty of intentional violations, the truth is that most are not. The I-9 requirements are complicated and confusing, and many employers find themselves in rapidly sinking quicksand when they thought everything was being handled correctly. It is for this reason that the assistance of immigration counsel, to both evaluate current procedures as well as help implement new ones, can prove invaluable.