Thursday, February 14, 2008

Utah Business Leaders Raise Voice On Immigration

Coalition urges lawmakers to step back before enacting laws

Stating it is time for Utah's silent majority to be heard, a group of Utah business leaders has organized to urge the Legislature to hold off on enacting what they term "onerous and burdensome" immigration laws.

The newly organized Immigration Policy Coalition, formed by organizations that include the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Utah Manufacturers Association and the Utah Farm Bureau, wants legislators to step back, consider their efforts' negative effects on business and instead study immigration issues with an eye toward ensuring the availability of legal immigrant labor.

Although that rationale prompted a legislator who is pushing for immigration law reform to say the time is past to expect federal help, the coalition continues to believe that "immigration primarily is a federal issue."

"And we need to encourage them to act," Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber, said at a news conference Tuesday staged in the rotunda of the Utah Capitol. Utah "needs to act only in those areas where we can move forward" on a state level.

Beattie said a new array of different state laws would only add to the confusion and uncertainty that businesses already are facing, especially those operating in several different states. "We need to step back and make sure any laws that are enacted won't hurt Utah's businesses and the state's economy."

For full story, see "Business Leaders Raise Voice on Immigration," by Steven Oberbeck, The Salt Lake Tribune (02/12/2008)

U.S. Program to Verify Worker Status is Growing

LOS ANGELES — The number of businesses taking part in a voluntary program that allows them to verify electronically their newly hired employees’ legal authorization to work in the United States is soaring, the federal government said Tuesday.

About 52,000 employers are now using a Web-based system, known as E-Verify, compared with 14,265 a year ago. The system has been growing in the past year by 1,000 employers a week, said the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services, which runs the program with the Social Security Administration.

Although the tally is a small fraction of the 5.7 million employers nationwide, program officials said it proved the system was catching on.

About a third of the employers, 18,000, are in Arizona, where a new state law requires businesses to use the program to verify the right to work for new employees.

For full story, see "U.S. Program to Verify Worker Status is Growing," by Randal C. Archibold, NY Times (02/13/2008)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Immigration Raid in Lindon Nets 50 Undocumented Workers; Employer Indicted

LINDON - Utah's simmering immigration debate shifted from the state Capitol to ground level in Utah County on Thursday.

More than 50 undocumented workers were arrested here during a morning raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on a metal factory.

The U.S. Department of Justice then unsealed indictments, charging the company, Universal Industrial Sales, Inc., with 10 counts of harboring illegal aliens, and its human resource manager, Alejandro "Alex" Urrutia-Garcia, with two counts of encouraging or inducing undocumented workers to remain in the U.S. illegally.

In doing so, the U.S. Attorney's Office of Utah and ICE appeared to signal a new strategy - one in which federal authorities are now targeting employers suspected of violating immigrations laws.

"This is a message to businesses. We're going after the ones actively participating in illegal hiring," said Brett Tolman, the U.S. Attorney for Utah.

The ICE sweep at Universal Sales, which has made metal highway signs and guard rails here for 30 years, comes at a time when Utah lawmakers are debating about 15 immigration-related measures during the Legislature. Some lawmakers say states need to start implementing legislation because Congress and the federal government have failed to do anything about illegal immigration.

For full story see, "Immigration raid in Lindon nets 50 undocumented workers; employer indicted," by Jennifer W. Sanchez and Pamela Manson, The Salt Lake Tribune (02/08/2008)

ICE Executes Federal Search Warrant at Van Nuys, CA Manufacting Plant

8 Illegal Alien Workers Charged Criminally; 130 Others Arrested on Immigration Violations

LOS ANGELES - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents executed a federal search warrant yesterday afternoon at a Los Angeles-area computer printer cartridge manufacturing plant, arresting eight current and former company workers on criminal charges and another 130 employees on administrative immigration violations.

The search warrant, which remains under seal because the investigation is ongoing, was executed at the Van Nuys, Calif., headquarters of Micro Solutions Enterprises (MSE), a locally-owned manufacturer of computer imaging supplies.

The violations include making false claims to U.S. citizenship and misuse of identity documents, charges that carry maximum prison sentences of three years and five years respectively. The charges reflect an increasing trend involving illegal aliens who take Social Security numbers and personal information belonging to U.S. citizens and legal residents and use it to illegally gain employment.

"The employment magnet is one of the key forces fueling illegal immigration," said Jennifer Silliman, deputy special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "When illegal aliens use fraudulent documents to get work, they not only exploit a vulnerability, they also take jobs from U.S. citizens and legal immigrants."

In addition to the criminal arrests, ICE agents encountered 130 workers at the plant who were found to be in the United States illegally, including nationals from six countries - Mexico (87), El Salvador (24), Guatemala (8), Peru (4), Honduras (4) and Colombia (3). These individuals were interviewed by ICE, and in some cases by medical staff from ICE's Division of Immigration Health Services, to determine if they had any medical, caregiver, or other humanitarian issues. The interviews help ICE decide whether individuals will be detained, or released on humanitarian grounds, while they await an immigration hearing.

As a result of those interviews, 84 of the illegal aliens identified at the plant yesterday have been detained. The group includes 65 men and 19 women. The vast majority will be transferred to the ICE contract detention facility in Lancaster, Calif., operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

For the full story, see "ICE executes federal search warrant at Van Nuys, Calif., manufacturing plant in ongoing probe," U.S. ICE

Arizona Seeing Signs of Flight by Immigrants

PHOENIX — The signs of flight among Latino immigrants here are multiple: Families moving out of apartment complexes, schools reporting enrollment drops, business owners complaining about fewer clients.

While it is too early to know for certain, a consensus is developing among economists, business people and immigration groups that the weakening economy coupled with recent curbs on illegal immigration are steering Hispanic immigrants out of the state.

The Arizona economy, heavily dependent on growth and a Latino work force, has been slowing for months. Meanwhile, the state has enacted one of the country’s toughest laws to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, and the county sheriff here in Phoenix has been enforcing federal immigration laws by rounding up people living here illegally.

“It is very difficult to separate the economic reality in Arizona from the effects of the laws because the economy is tanking and construction is drying up,” said Frank Pierson, lead organizer of the Arizona Interfaith Network, which advocates for immigrants’ rights and other causes. But the combination of factors creates “ a disincentive to stay in the state.”

State Representative Russell K. Pearce, a Republican from Mesa and leading advocate of the crackdown on illegal immigration, takes reports of unauthorized workers leaving as a sign of success. An estimated one in 10 workers in Arizona are Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, twice the national average.

“The desired effect was, we don’t have the red carpet out for illegal aliens,” Mr. Pearce said, adding that while “most of these are good people” they are a “tremendous burden” on public services.

For the full story, see "Arizona Seeing Sings of Flights by Immigrants," by Randal C. Archibold, NY Times (02/12/2008)

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Note About Social Security Cards

Social Security cards are not immigration documents but are used to establish employment authorization. Social Security cards have been issued since 1936 and Have been revised from than 20 times. Originally, the seal on the Social Security card read Social Security Bard. In May of 1980, it was changed to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In April 1995 it was changed to read Social Security Administration. Some counterfeiters have failed to notice these changes.

Additionally, there are Social Security cards that have been issued since 1982 with the annotation "NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT," and beginning in 1992 with the annotation "VALID FOR WORK WITH INS AUTHORIZATION"which has now changed to DHS.

In October 1983, security features were added to the card. All Social Security cards issued since October 1983 have been printed with raised printing and the signature line consists of microline printing of the words "SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION" in repeating pattern.

ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory (February 2008)

Know Your Workforce: The Key to Immigration Compliance
A recurrent issue encountered in ICE worksite enforcement investigations today is the abuse of the Social Security (SS) card by individuals seeking to satisfy the work authorization requirements mandated by federal law. The SS card has long been a favorite of fraudulent document vendors. In fact, immigration fraud investigators have coined the terms "three pack" to refer to the frequently encountered fraudulent document combination of the SS card, the state driver's license or identity card, and a work authorization document.

A common SS card fraud theme is for individuals without work authorization to assume the identity of persons with valid identity and work authorization documents to establish employment eligibility during the I-9 process.

ICE is issuing this worksite enforcement advisory to make employers aware of significant fraud trends encountered by the law enforcement community so that employers do not inadvertently facilitate acts of identity theft within their own workforce.

Case Study: Know Your Work Force
ICE investigators have found that many aliens who are not authorized to work in the US claim to be US citizens when completing the Form I-9 and use authentic SS numbers that belong to US citizens. In one investigation, ICE conducted an I-9 audit of an employer and discovered that most of the workforce claimed US citizenship even though the industry historically employs a large percentage of non-US citizens.

Keying in on this anomaly, ICE determined that many of the workers had supplied the employer with SS numbers issued from one particular non-local jurisdiction. This fact is significant because prior immigration investigations have determined that "document mills" frequently use SS numbers that seemingly originate in one jurisdiction and that unauthorized aliens frequently use "breeder documents" such as the SS card and birth certificate as a stepping stone to obtain valid state identity documents as a means to escape detection by law enforcement and employers.

Things to look for: Notable changes in the claimed citizenship or immigration status of your workforce. When you customarily hire aliens with authorization to work in the US and you notice your employees claiming to be US citizens in numbers that strike you as abnormally high or atypical for your region and/or industry, you should consider contacting your local ICE office.

Also, if you notice that your new hires are suddenly presenting identical documentation (birth certificates, or driver's licenses, for example), from one particular state, possession or territory, this may warrant further inquiry by discussing with the employee his connection with the particular issuing entity, or be contacting ICE for further information.

Case Study: Middle Management is not Immune from Prosecution

During another ICE investigation, an employee reported to ICE investigators of an incidence when he noticed co-workers tearing up IRS W-2 records. When the employee approached a supervisor about what he saw, the supervisor stated that it did "not matter since those employees were illegal anyway."

Don't ignore relevant information! Indifference to the law by supervisors and employees is never a good business practice and may result in criminal charges against you, your company and your employees.

Things to look for: Social Security "Employer Correction Requests" or no-match letters. Respond to no-match letters. Check your records to ensure you have recorded the information correctly. Check with your employee to verify the information given to you is correct. Verify any corrections with SSA. Encourage the employee to resolve the issue with SSa and ensure any corrections are valid by checking again with SSA.

Any other discrepancies identified by the Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS). If a company finds inconsistencies after submitting a SS number to the SSA, employers should immediately check their records fro errors and discuss the issue with the employee and the SSA if the error cannot be identified.

Top 10 Tips for Employers Who Receive No-Match Letters

#1 Don’t panic. The SSA is not an enforcement agency of either the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) tax requirements or the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration laws. The SSA’s goal in sending the letter is to update its database, which contains more than $500 billion in earnings that cannot be credited to an individual account. The SSA does not track the results of its no-match letter campaigns, and there are no reported instances of the SSA “turning someone in” to either the IRS or ICE where there are discrepancies. In fact, the SSA has no enforcement authority, and simply sends this educational correspondence through the employer for the benefit of employees. Moreoever, the IRS has a guidance making it clear that simply receiving a no-match letter does not mean that the IRS will issue a fine against an employer. All an employer has to show to avoid being fined is that is asked the employee for a social security number when the employee started work. It is the solicitation by the employer that is important, not necessarily the response by the worker.

#2 Post a general notice to all employees stating that in order to ensure that the Social Security taxes that are withdrawn from their wages are properly credited to their Social Security records they should compare the name and Social Security number that appears on their check stubs with that on their Social Security card, to ensure that the information is exactly the same. Include the same notice with all employee’s check stubs at least once a year.

# 3 Make a copy and give the letter to all listed employees and to their union representative, if there is one. Explain to them that the SSA is merely trying to properly credit each worker’s earnings account. Tell the employees you’re not going to take any adverse action against them, but that you suggest that they check themselves to see whether or not the name on their Social Security card or the number listed by the SSA has an error.

#4 Instruct employees to deal directly with SSA to make any necessary corrections. Give the employees time, including time off of work if necessary, to investigate or correct any errors they find either in their name or the SSN.

#5 Check your reports to the SSA to make sure there were no errors on your end. Sometimes employer wage reports have typographical mistakes. Checking the information provided to you on employee W-4 Forms is a quick way to check for those errors. Inform the SSA of any discrepancies you may have inadvertently caused.

#6 Suggest to your employees that they seek assistance from a trusted community organization if they need it. Or, better yet, have advocates trained in no-match letters and immigrants’ rights come provide a “know-your-rights” session for your employees to alleviate concerns.

#7 DO NOT fire, suspend, intimidate, or threaten any employee whose name is on the nomatch list with termination or any other adverse action. If you do, you may be in violation of federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination. The SSA letter itself states, “You should not use this letter to take any adverse action against an employee, such as laying off, suspending, firing, or discriminating against that individual, just because his or her Social Security number appears on the list. Doing so could, in fact, violate state or federal law and subject you to legal consequences.”

#8 DO NOT ask employees on the no-match list to bring in their Social Security card or other immigration-related documents. Immigration law requires employers to check new hires to ensure that they have work authorization, and to fill out an INS Form I-9. Employees may show employers any document listed on the INS I-9 form to comply with this requirement. Once this is done, employers are not permitted to re-check an employee’s immigration documents, as this can constitute unlawful discrimination and acts to intimidate workers.

#9 DO NOT assume that workers on the no-match list are undocumented or have
provided false information. There are many reasons why the employee’s name or number might not match the SSA database records. The SSA itself states in its no-match letter that the reasons include typographical errors, incomplete or blank names or SSN’s, or name changes.

#10 Promptly report any corrections to the SSA that you or your employees find to ensure that the personal earnings records of your employees are accurately reported and credited. Some no-match letters give employers and employees 60 days to respond, but the SSA has no enforcement ability regarding this deadline.

Resource: National Employment Law Project, "10 Tips for Employers Who Receive No-Match Letters"

The Impact of Immigration on Hiring

Small business owners need to pay attention to immigration issues and closely scrutinize data offered by new hires to avoid suffering damages to their workforce, according to a panel of experts speaking at a conference Monday hosted by the National Association of Women Business Owners.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of the Homeland Security Department is focused on businesses dealing in construction, manufacturing, meatpacking, retailers and temporary placement agencies, among others, said immigration lawyer Nicole Lawrence Ezer.
"No one is safe at this point unless you're certain your I-9s are in order," she said. I-9s or "Employment Eligibility Verification" forms are required to be filed by all companies with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A new version of the I-9 (pdf) went into effect in January. The major change on the revised form eliminates five documents from a list of acceptable documents that would allow an individual to be employed in the United States .
No-match letters are notices sent by the Social Security Administration to employers and employees letting them know that an employee's name or Social Security number listed on a W-2 form does not match the agency's records. It is not a notice of wrongdoing.
There are 15 to 20 states that are considering immigration reform, said Mike Aitken of the Society for Human Resource Management, and small firms should be aware of what their states are doing. At least one, Wisconsin , is considering legislation requiring employers to act on no-match letters.
Additionally, on Jan. 1, 2008, Arizona joined Colorado , Georgia and Oklahoma in requiring all employers to use an online system called E-verify to confirm their employees' identity. However, as states develop a patchwork quilt of legislation, companies can encounter problems.
Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of CG2 Consulting noted that Illinois has a law that says employers can not use E-verify. The state had concerns over errors in the database and other issues, she said. The conflicting state regulations pose problems for states doing business in both Illinois and Arizona , for example. That is why business owners should push lawmakers to fix this mess, she said.

By Sharon McLoone