World of Difference: Fire and Ice

Oct. 1, 2008
The two largest raids in U.S. history happened in the last six months.

The Wall Street meltdown was a recent flare in the fire of headline-grabbing fears, and both presidential candidates claim they can fix everything.

Public panic and political rhetoric, however, have barely touched on the once-scorching immigration issue. Material handling managers— and anyone who hires employees or selects vendors—should reheat it.

In March 2003, we entered an Ice Age when a new branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was created. ICE’s “worksite enforcement investigations” have resulted in 1,531 arrests and 1,178 convictions in fiscal 2007.

Illegal aliens weren’t the only ones getting handcuffed. More than 120 were owners, managers, supervisors or human-resources profess-
ionals. And, their employers were charged a total of more than $30 million in administrative fines. Earlier this year, the feds increased penalties and raised civil fines against employers by an average of 25%.

Material handling was directly hit in April 2006 when ICE agents arrested seven managers and two other employees at IFCO systems, a pallet and container supplier, as part of a multistate raid that also rounded up more than 1,000 alleged illegal workers. This March, a grand jury returned a six-count felony indictment against IFCO’s vice president of new market development, two managers, a foreman and a human-resources manager. They each face a fine of $250,000 for every illegal worker and up to 10 years in prison.

In this election year, ICE has no chance of melting. The two largest raids in U.S. history happened in the last six months. In May, nearly 400 people at an Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant were arrested. In August, ICE agents arrested almost 600 employees at Howard Industries Inc., an electric transformer manufacturing facility.

While some managers intentionally recruit illegal aliens to pad profits, others break the law without knowing it. ICE investigators say many illegal aliens claim to be U.S. citizens when completing the I-9, the federal immigration form, and some supply fake Social Security cards.

ICE is looking for recordkeeping discrepancies, and the agency only has to give three days’ notice of an I-9 audit. So, now is the time to verify employee records. Third-party staffing firms need to be scrutinized, too. A precedent was set in 2005 when Wal-Mart paid $11 million to settle a claim that it violated immigration laws by hiring a cleaning vendor that used unauthorized workers. The retail giant now strictly verifies I-9 compliance before hiring contractors.

Digging into records may not be enough. Some employers are going further by signing on to a voluntary federal program called IMAGE (ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and

Mary Aichlmayr

Employers). IMAGE encourages workforce compliance in much the same way the voluntary U.S. EPA SmartWay program supports sustainable business practices.

Shortly after the IFCO raids, Atlas Pallet Co. signed up. CHEP USA, along with numerous manufacturers and third-party employment companies, are also IMAGE members.

Participants get federal education on hiring procedures and fraudulent-document detection as well as access to the E-Verify system, a Web-based service that links to Social Security Administration and DHS databases. To enroll in IMAGE, employers must submit to an I-9 audit and sign a formal agreement.

It may be a small price to pay to survive an Ice Age. There’s no ambiguity in the message of Julie L. Myers, ICE’s assistant secretary for homeland security: “ICE and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring all of our authorities to bear in this fight using criminal charges, asset seizures, administrative arrests and deportations.”

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