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Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed that it soon plans to audit more than 600 employers nationwide for compliance with hiring laws. In addition, a number of state and local jurisdictions are implementing requirements for employers to verify the status of workers and performing inspections targeting illegal workers who use false documents. Companies need to examine their hiring practices to avoid the disruption and negative publicity that can accompany a federal or local enforcement action.
Some companies have already experienced the new style of immigration law enforcement. In early May, Overhill Farms, a large frozen food company in the Los Angeles suburbs, was the subject of what has been called a “desktop raid.” An audit uncovered that one-fourth of its 1,000 employees had discrepancies in their Social Security records that turned out to be unresolvable, exposing their status as illegal immigrants. The company had little choice but to let the workers go in one fell swoop. Overhill quickly found replacement workers, but the episode was traumatic for management and workers alike, as it came with little warning.
Immigration investigations in progress are shifting focus rapidly. In February of this year, a Bellingham, WA engine manufacturing company was raided when agents became aware that criminal gang members had been on the payroll. Twenty-eight of 100 workers were initially arrested, and early reports indicated that the employers were cooperating with ICE. Within weeks the case took a turn, as temporary visas were issued to the illegal workers in exchange for their cooperation in the investigation that is now focused on the employer.
Electronic screening systems such as E-Verify and SSNVS are helpful, but are no substitute for human attention. Human resources personnel today need to be aware of all the possible vulnerabilities in their hiring process and how to minimize them. They also need to make sure that any problems are resolved fairly and appropriately.
Consequently, Omega Secure Solutions (OSS), a homeland security services firm comprised of former immigration officers, recently announced a new program to assist employers in complying with immigration laws. Says company President Bob McGraw, “Even eight years after 9/11, many in the business community still have only minimal baseline knowledge of immigration law.”
Maintaining a legal workforce is important for some obvious reasons—to protect a company from enforcement action and to avoid the negative publicity and business disruption that accompanies it. But the best reason, as those who have devoted time and resources to this goal know, is that it results in a stable workforce that helps companies flourish. As governments at all levels flirt with ever more punitive laws and regulations, corporate leaders should take control of their hiring process on their own schedule and in accordance with the company’s best interest.