A Michigan dairy farm and its two owners pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges of employing illegal aliens, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). According to the investigation, of the 78 illegal aliens hired by the farm, some were hired on multiple occasions using different names or social security numbers despite the farm owners’ being notified by both the Social Security Administration and ICE that its employees were not authorized to work in the United States. The defendants encouraged or induced the illegal aliens to reside in the United States by providing them with employment and free housing on the farm, away from scrutiny by ICE and the surrounding community.

As part of the agreement reached with the government, the owners of the farm pleaded guilty to hiring illegal aliens, a charge that carries a term of imprisonment of up to six months and a $3,000 fine per hire. They pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens, a felony which carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and additional fines. The owners agreed to pay fines and a payment in lieu of forfeiture totaling $2,734,000.

“Building and supporting a business through the intentional use of people not lawfully authorized to work here is a model that we won’t tolerate,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Detroit.  “The defendants in this case were given an opportunity to bring their workforce into compliance and failed to do so and the significant ramifications of their actions speak for themselves.”

Going forward we can anticipate more I-9 audits and inspections and enforcement of immigration laws across the country. According to a written statement from ICE spokesman, Gillian Christensen, “The inspections will touch on employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation, with an emphasis on business related to critical infrastructure and key resources.”  Although ICE has not disclosed the names of the companies being targeted, ICE indicates that the list includes both large and small businesses in a variety of business sectors, including construction, agriculture, food production, fast food chains, hospitality and financial services industries, as well as IT, healthcare and transportation.

The key to safeguarding your company is to draw out an I-9 policy and provide ample training to those who would be implementing it. Another thing to be taken care of is to take legal advice from immigration experts/lawyers to soundproof you immigration policies and practices. I-9 forms should be maintained in a consistent and uniform manner across an organization and one should be diligent to conduct self audits on a regular basis to close any gaps or inconsistency in your immigration policy.

Disclaimer: The content of this post does not constitute direct legal advice and is designed for informational purposes only. Any issues regarding compliance and obligations under United States or International laws or regulations should be addressed through your legal department or outside counsel.

EMP Trust Solutions provide electronic I-9 and E-Verify Solutions that can help you comply with legal and compliance issues in your organization.