Ice Inspection Hits Close to Home

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In a decision dated December 22, 2010, the US Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found a fast food franchisee in Fayetteville, North Carolina, guilty of I-9 violations and fined the company $27,150. Count I alleged that the franchisee hired 11 individuals from 2006 through early 2009, yet failed to ensure that they properly completed Section 1 of the I-9 Form and/or failed itself to properly complete Section 2 or Section 3. Count II alleged that the franchisee hired 97 individuals during the same time period for whom it failed to prepare any I-9s. Penalties were sought in the amount of $1,028.50 for each violation, for a total of $111,078. OCAHO found that, based upon a visual inspection, the I-9 Forms for the 11 individuals named in Count I contained substantive violations, and no I-9 Forms could be produced for any of the 97 employees named in Count II. For reasons discussed below, OCAHO ultimately fined the franchisee $27,150, approximately 25% of the penalties sought by ICE.

Employers should be aware that the substantive violations found in Count I were caused in part by the ICE auditor subtly marking a Form I-9 to determine if it was later tampered with, something that the franchisee tried to do, demonstrating bad faith. In this case, the ICE auditor made “three subtle marks” to determine later whether the forms produced were backdated or completed after service of the Notice of Inspection on the franchisee in the context of the auditor simultaneously providing a sample I-9 Form and a copy of the Handbook for Employers (M-274). At that time, the ICE auditor expressly warned the franchisee’s employee not to backdate the I-9 Form if new ones were prepared. When the I-9s were subsequently reviewed by ICE, however, it was determined that they had all been completed after the Notice, and that 7 of the 11 forms were backdated with the employer attestation at Section 2 still left blank.

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