What Do the Recent Immigration Raids in Mississippi Mean for SETX Businesses?

What Do the Recent Immigration Raids in Mississippi Mean for SETX Businesses?

On August 7th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided seven food processing plants in Mississippi. The raids were well publicized in national news due to the high-profile businessmen that will inevitably face criminal charges and the unprecedented number of workers that were taken into custody. Less publicized is ICE’s enforcement efforts of smaller businesses which are reflected by a 405% increase in worksite investigations, and a 741% increase in criminal and administrative arrests between 2017 and 2018. These numbers reflect crimes charged against business owners and executives, not unauthorized workers.

As the dust settles in Mississippi, SETX employers should be evaluating their own hiring practices. ICE currently has open investigations in the Golden Triangle. Large corporations have sophisticated hiring procedures. At a disadvantage are smaller companies competing in low margin industries like construction, manufacturing, landscaping, agricultural, hospitality, food processing, etc. These become the easy targets for ICE investigations.

Few companies will experience a raid like the one in Mississippi which was the product of a long undercover investigation. Most investigations consist of an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification audit. These are lead-generated; meaning that something has drawn the attention of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) team. Leads come from a variety of sources such as the following.

Immigration Applications. Undocumented people that have been living and working in the United States sometimes become eligible for a visa. To be approved, the immigrant submits an application to USCIS. These applications ask for the immigrant’s five-year employment history, and the hiring practices of the employers named may come into question.

Disgruntled employees or competitors. When OSHA became a hot topic, people figured out that they could draw unwanted attention to a company by reporting violations to authorities. Immigration is a hot topic today, and it is easy to conceive why a disgruntled employee or competitor might report immigration violations.

Staffing agency audits. When an employer receives a Notice of Inspection, a listing of any staffing agencies used is requested. This leads to I-9 audits of staffing agencies. If investigators find that all of an employer’s unauthorized workers are employed through an agency, they will piece together the puzzle and may determine the employer had actual knowledge of their unauthorized status.

Identity theft investigations. Identity theft complaints lead investigators to employees and their employers.

SSA “no-match” letters. A no-match letter is a letter from the IRS notifying an employer that information submitted in one or more of its W-2s does not match information with the Social Security Administration i.e. the name doesn’t match the number. One letter might indicate an anomaly. If a company receives several, it might become the focus of an investigation.

A company’s only defense in an audit, investigation, or raid is its I-9 program. The program should be a written procedure with safeguards to ensure it is applied consistently with each new hire. To initiate an audit, two HSI officers will arrive unannounced and present a business with a Notice of Inspection (NOI). The NOI will explain specifically what investigators want, and you have three days to respond. Have a response plan in place.

Perform a self-audit in actual audit conditions. The self-audit will put the team in audit conditions ahead of time and give them opportunity to fine tune the response plan.

The federal government provides a service called E-Verify. E-Verify is an added step to the I-9 process by which the employer runs identification and work authorization information provided by the employee through a government website that verifies it against the Social Security Administration database and the Department of Homeland Security database. It is so effective that using E-Verify creates a rebuttable presumption of innocence if found to employ unauthorized workers during an investigation.

Although raids are rare, personnel should be trained how to respond. First, call your immigration attorney immediately. Only provide what investigators have a warrant for. Employees should not speak with investigators. Designate a manager as the point of contact to deal with investigators on site. The manager should direct company personnel. Before investigators leave, demand an inventory of documentation being removed from the site and a list of any employees being taken into custody.

Walter Wendler is the business immigration attorney at Wendler Law Group, PLLC in Beaumont, TX.




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