U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE) announced last month that the husband and wife owners of a dairy farm plead guilty to charges of employing 78 different “illegal aliens” between 2000 and 2007, constituting 75% of their workforce during that period. The couple was arrested in a dawn raid of their farm. Indications in the media are that the arrest and conviction followed previous agency encounters, beginning as early as 2007.
“Criminal charges and fines are among the government’s most effective tools to ensure employers maintain a legal workforce,” said a spokesman for the agency. The penalty for each undocumented employee is up to six months in jail and $3000 fine per hire. In this case, the owners plead guilty to the felony of harboring illegal aliens, which has a five year maximum sentence, and agreed to pay fines totaling $2.7 million.
In another recently publicized case, Prince Georges County in Maryland has agreed to pay over $4.2 million in back wages to over 1000 employees as a result of enforcement actions taken by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. DOL found that the County had illegally required that the employees pay fees that the County was supposed to pay, in relation to immigration benefits applications.
In some cases, the government now bugs undocumented workers and then asks them to “confess” to their employer that they are illegal. Employers who do not act on such information can be subject to criminal charges, for knowingly employing undocumented labor. Such was the case for Mambo Seafood Restaurants in Houston.
Clearly, the U.S. Government is focusing its attention on employers in enforcing immigration laws, rather than directly on the undocumented. This creates a new and perhaps fearsome climate for some industries, such as the agriculture, restaurant and construction sectors, which are well known for their reliance on undocumented labor.