Today’s Washington Post has a startling revelation that Consistent Cleaning Services, a local cleaning contractor, may have assigned undocumented employees to work at DHS Secretary Chertoff’s home. This was done apparently after the company assured the Chertoffs that the workers had legal status. Even more startling is the company owner’s tact to go to the Washington Post after being investigated and fined by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in what can only be viewed as a desperate attempt to be excused for his own failure to comply with the basic requirements of immigration law.
To be clear, having practiced immigration law in both the government and private sector for over 10 years and counseled employers on employee verification and I-9 requirements, there is a lot of ambiguity in our immigration laws and there is a desperate need for employers to have enhanced capabilities to screen their employee’s immigration status. There is blame to share on this issue at all levels.
Yet, this does not absolve James Reid and his company from the reported failures identified by ICE. In fact, given ICE’s recent record on employer sanctions, to include a historical number of criminal indictments of employers and employees, Mr. Reid should be thankful that his significant violations and omissions in screening employers, including the contractors he provided to Secretary Chertoff’s home, merely resulted in a civil fine.
Mr. Reid’s failure to complete Form I-9s for all of his employees and his ensuing action of backdating I-9s after ICE requested production of his I-9 records is a violation of the basic tenets of immigration verification requirements. While he correctly notes the difficulty in distinguishing false from genuine documents, he apparently deemed his level of confusion sufficient to eschew the whole process of even asking for documentation.
These requirements and prohibitions are so basic that it would not take much to infer or establish a purposeful intent to evade our immigration laws. If DHS was being overzealous against small employers, as Mr. Reid attempts to portray in his statements to the Washington Post, he would be spending his time searching for a criminal attorney instead of talking to reporters on how helpless and unworthy of blame he is.
One only needs to read recent stories in the Washington Post regarding ICE raids at large national corporations such as Swift, Agriprocessors, and Howard Industries to understand that there is no vendetta against small companies. Whereas those investigations resulted in corporate executives being indicted and national operations being disrupted as a result of hundreds of workers being arrested at plant locations, Mr. Reid merely faces a civil fine and the need to fire undocumented employees. The reality, as shown in the mounting statistics and historical records regarding ICE worksite operations and criminal indictments, is that the entire U.S. employer community — big, medium, and small — is under heightened pressure and scrutiny to comply with immigration verification requirements.
There is plenty of blame to pass around on the failures of our immigration system. However, Mr. Reid’s approach of complete denial and abdication of one’s responsibilities to comply with our immigration laws neither improves the situation nor stimulates the logical and reasonable dialogue that is necessary to truly fix our immigration system.
Employers need better tools to screen their workers, our country needs to understand its need for foreign workers, and we all need to understand that fixing our immigration system will require enforcement of our immigration laws and acceptance by all of responsibility in helping the system work.
Secretary Chertoff, here seeing the impact of our broken system very close to home, has in his defense made these points in his efforts to encourage Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that touches on all these aspects. Unfortunately, Mr. Reid and others continue to choose the past approach of blaming others and never accepting some responsibility in making a challenging immigration system work for all of us.
In the holiday spirit of gift-giving, I provide Mr. Reid the following free non-legal advice: count your blessings, open the checkbook, and consider using E-Verify – it’s free.