- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Companies can verify whether a prospective employee is working in the U.S. legally and avoid hefty fines and jail sentences through a program announced yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security.

Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the House Ways and Means Committee that the program will change “the culture of tolerance for those who employ illegal workers.”

“We also need to ensure that employers cannot use contract arrangements to separate themselves from complicity in the illegal hiring of their contractors,” Mrs. Myers told the panel after the program was announced.

Homeland Security officials say business owners have inundated the department with requests on how to prevent illegal hiring.

“There has been a real cry for help from employers who want to do the right thing,” ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said.

“Every day, they are faced with people looking for employment using sophisticated fraudulent documents, and they are not trained to be document detectives,” Mr. Boyd said.

The ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) verifies work-authorization permits. The agency will provide training and education on hiring practices and detection of fraudulent documents. The federal government also will update business owners on schemes designed to circumvent legal hiring practices.

To qualify, businesses must adhere to several “best practices,” such as audits by third parties, and agree to establish protocols for responding to Social Security Administration alerts about discrepancies in employee numbers.

Elizabeth Gaudio of the National Federation of Independent Businesses says the program “seems like a good idea in theory” but questioned some requirements.

“We’re concerned about added paperwork and the cost burden on smaller businesses for training and audits. But certainly, any program that helps employers better understand the laws and requirements is a good thing,” she said.

Immigration officials have switched strategy. They had been issuing fines or threats of fines for paperwork violations, but now are bringing criminal charges against corporate directors and seizing property.

ICE officials made 25 criminal arrests in 2003, compared with more than 400 this year, Mr. Boyd said.

On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Cincinnati returned a 40-count criminal indictment against two companies and its corporate officers for supplying more than 1,000 illegal aliens as contract workers to sort air freight.

Last week, two Kentucky corporations pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens and money laundering and agreed to pay $1.5 million, and a Chinese restaurant owner in Ohio was arrested and charged with harboring 10 illegal aliens and faces a 10-year prison sentence.


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