ICE I-9 Audit of Arizona Hotel Results in Employee Terminations
According to the Arizona Daily Sun, Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, AZ had to terminate 18 employees as a result of an ICE audit this summer. The full article is below.
A federal audit of employee records led managers at Little America hotel in Flagstaff to terminate 18 workers this summer for not being able to provide satisfactory documentation of legal residency.
The hotel was required to undertake an investigation after being contacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS) with questions about whether the employees were eligible.
In a statement to the Daily Sun provided by hotel manager Fred Reese, the hotel said it has always followed federal and state hiring regulations. It also said that all employees affected by the audit were paid their wages in full, along with earned vacation.
“During the audit process, DHS questioned whether 18 hotel employees had valid documentation to work in the United States– even though they had presented facially valid documents when they were hired,” read an excerpt from the statement. “In May 2011, at the direction of DHS, Little America hotel officials met with each of these 18 employees individually (using an interpreter when needed) asking them to update their information to satisfy DHS. Upon receiving this request, some employees gave notice and left Little America employment on their own, some provided additional documentation (which DHS deemed to be unacceptable), and others did not respond.”
The statement said that Little America then sent letters to each employee who still needed to provide documentation, and by the end of July, “DHS informed the hotel that those who had not been able to document their right to work in the United States would no longer be eligible to be employed.”
Employees came from housekeeping, grounds, the store and the restaurant. One employee, Celia (not her real name), worked in housekeeping for more than nine years, earning $11.47 an hour and health benefits for full-time work. She was the primary breadwinner in her family, which includes three children, and she said Little America was a good place to be.
Celia has lived in Flagstaff for 15 years. She stayed and started a new job this week as a maid at another Flagstaff hotel, earning a little more than minimum wage without benefits. Some of her former co-workers went to Mexico or moved out of state after losing their jobs.
AUDIT NOT E-VERIFY
Audits are not the same as E-verify enforcement. E-verify is a federal service of the Department of Homeland Security (ICE’s umbrella organization) and the Social Security Administration, but Arizona’s participation is a state law. The service affects all new hires across the state and requires the employer to use E-verify’s photo screening tool to match photos used on identification submitted with the I-9 form they complete when hired. Employers cannot use E-verify to re-verify current employees.
Long before E-verify was a state mandate, federal law required employers to verify their workers’ identity and employment eligibility with the I-9 forms. It is this confirmation that ICE seeks with audits. Penalties can include fines and criminal prosecution.
ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said audits can be the result of any initiative — including anonymous tips — and they have a variety of results. A business can be told there’s a technical problem with paperwork, a notice of possibly suspect documents (such as false or stolen identification) or a criminal investigation if they’re knowingly hiring authorized workers. An example of a criminal investigation happened in July when the owners of the Flagstaff formalwear shop I Do! I Do! allegedly brought Vietnamese immigrants to the U.S. to do forced labor at the store.
There is benefit of the doubt built into audits, which is why ICE does not apprehend possible illegal immigrant workers right after an audit. For example, a legal worker might be flagged after getting married and changing her name without updating her employment records.
“Just the fact that somebody has documents that might be suspect doesn’t mean that they’re in the country unlawfully,” he said. “So we’re focused on conducting those audits and identifying employers who are knowingly or egregiously violating immigration laws and then conducting criminal investigations into that to try and hold employers responsible for breaking the law. That’s really where the focus of our resources is being used in the worksite enforcement cases.”
Full statement from Little America
In February 2011 the Department of Homeland Security conducted an employee documentation audit at the Little America Hotel Flagstaff. Similar audits have been and are being performed in several businesses in Arizona and throughout the country.
During the audit process DHS questioned whether 18 hotel employees had valid documentation to work in the United States — even though they had presented facially valid documents when they were hired. In May 2011, at the direction of DHS, Little America hotel officials met with each of these 18 employees individually (using an interpreter when needed) asking them to update their information to satisfy DHS. Upon receiving this request, some employees gave notice and left Little America employment on their own, some provided additional documentation (which DHS deemed to be unacceptable), and others did not respond. Subsequently, Little America again attempted to acquire the requested DHS documentation by sending a letter to each employee who had not provided additional documentation requested by DHS. Finally, by the end of July, DHS informed the hotel that those who had not been able to document their right to work in the United States would no longer be eligible to be employed. All employees affected by the DHS audit were paid their wages in full along with earned vacation.
The Little America Hotel Flagstaff has always followed federal and state hiring regulations. In 2006, the hotel began verifying all applicant Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration, a step that was not required by the federal government. In January 2008, the hotel adopted the federal E-Verify system, as required by Arizona law.
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