Congress’ power over immigration is plenary, meaning it is absolute. This attitude towards immigration has been deeply embedded into the immigration system for at least a century. Although a variety of exceptions, waivers, and exemptions exist in the immigration system, both individuals and employers ought to be wary of the devastating consequences for not complying with immigration regulations. This article will explore just some of the noncompliance issues employers may face.
Both civil fines and criminal sanctions may be imposed on employers who hire unauthorized labor. The civil fines may range from $375 to $3,200 for each unauthorized worker for just the first offense. A second offense will lead to a fine of $3,200 to $6,500 for each unauthorized worker. For each subsequent offense, the fines range from $4,300 to $16,000. In all cases, a cease-and-desist order may follow.
The fines do not stop there. Should an employer require an employee put up a deposit, security, bond, or other insurance to protect the employer from these fines may result in a fine in and of itself for up to $1,000. Not maintaining proper I-9 records can result in fines of $110 to $1,100 for each individual.
The fines can be imposed on “employers,” which has a technical definition under immigration law. “Employer” for the sake of assessing fines is defined as the entity or person, including an agent or anyone acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer, who engages the services or labor of an employee. For some of these fines, there may be some small leeway for employers who are so large that central hiring practices are impracticable or nearly impossible.
Criminal sanctions may also be imposed in lieu of or in conjunction with the civil penalties. Criminal proceedings may lead to seizing company assets derived from work made by the undocumented worker and bars to federal contractor work. Prison sentences for up to 10 years may result for hiring undocumented workers under the felony charge of harboring illegally present individuals for financial gain, encouraging or inducing a person to reside illegally in the United States for financial gain, conspiracy, and/or transporting an undocumented person for financial gain. If money laundering charges are involved, a 20 year sentence may imposed as well as a $500,000 fine.
Noncompliance, which could range from simply not maintaining proper I-9 records to knowingly hiring an undocumented worker, can be an expensive and life-altering mistake for those involved. It is also important to know that “undocumented” or “illegal” workers are not just who the popular media paints them as. In fact, this could include a student visa worker improperly employed without their OPT extension, a H-1B worker who overstayed their visa, a B-1 tourist who engages in unauthorized work, or any number of circumstances conceivable under the immigration laws. If you feel your company’s immigration compliance standards are not up to date or if you are an individual who has questions about your immigration status, contact our office so we may help you with your issues.