ICE Raids Continue Throughout United States - Articles

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Posted by: Bruce Buchanan on Sep 18, 2018
Since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) raid at Southeastern Provisions in Bean Station, TN, ICE/HSI has continued to conduct raids.
Most recently, ICE/HSI struck again in late August 2018 when it raided Load Trail LLC in Sumner, Texas. During this raid, HSI arrested about 160 out of 700 employees in the workforce on federal immigration violations - unlawfully working in the United States with undocumented status. The investigation began when HSI received information that the company may have knowingly hired undocumented workers, and that many of the workers employed at Load Trail were using fraudulent identification documents. 
This isn’t the first time Load Trail has been in trouble with ICE. In 2014, Load Trail was fined $445,000 for employing more than 170 unauthorized immigrants. Being a repeat offender means it is likely that Load Trail will be facing substantial penalties. It would not be a surprise to see some company officials facing jail time and the company paying over $1 million in penalties. Much will depend on whether testimony and company records, which were confiscated in the raid pursuant to a criminal search warrant, establish the company had direct or constructive knowledge of their employees’ undocumented status. 
Earlier in August 2018, in a multi-state operation, covering Nebraska and Minnesota, ICE/HSI raided over 15 workplaces serving a series of criminal search warrants and criminal arrest warrants. The raids were the result of a 15-month investigation into companies allegedly knowingly hiring undocumented workers, who were using fraudulent identification belonging to U.S. citizens. 
As a result of these raids, 17 individuals were arrested for an alleged criminal conspiracy to exploit illegal alien laborers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in Nebraska and Minnesota. HSI believes the alleged conspirators colluded to create an illegal alien workforce in their respective businesses. In addition to these arrest warrants, authorities also identified 133 employees who were subject to arrest for immigration violations and were unlawfully working at these businesses. These individuals had been illegally residing and working in the United States and may also have been exploited as part of this alleged criminal conspiracy. 
According to ICE, by colluding to create an illegal alien workforce in their respective businesses, the 17 individuals defrauded the U.S. government and created an unfair advantage over their competition businesses. Additionally, authorities suspect the undocumented workers who were knowingly hired as part of this alleged conspiracy were exploited by the conspirators through force, coercion, or threat of arrest and/or deportation. Specifically, these undocumented workers were allegedly required to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for a fee, have tax money deducted from their pay even though this money was never paid to the government, and were coerced to remain quiet about this criminal activity.
“The job magnet in the United States is primarily what draws illegal aliens across our borders,” said Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier, HSI St. Paul, which oversees Nebraska and Minnesota. “This HSI-led criminal investigation has shown that these targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers, and cheating their business competitors.”
On June 19, 2018, ICE raided Fresh Mark, a large meat supplier with facilities in Salem, Massillon and Canton, Ohio. Although ICE raided four of Fresh Mark’s facilities with federal criminal search warrants, only the Salem facility was the site of arrests. The detained 146 workers are suspected of using stolen/fraudulent identification to gain employment and/or reentry into the United States after deportation.  
Steve Francis, Special Agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations Michigan/Ohio unit, said the raid was the result of more than a year-long investigation into Fresh Mark and its employees, and whether the company knowingly hired and harbored undocumented workers. "It's important that companies know not to willingly participate in the hiring of illegal aliens," said Francis.
Fresh Mark, a family-owned company, which employs more than 1,000 employees, sells meat products, such as bacon, deli ham, lunch meats and sausages to restaurants, delis, grocers and stadiums nationwide. The company said it participates in E-Verify, a federal program to ensure employees have proper documentation and conducts an annual internal audit of its I-9 forms. It should be noted if an employee engages in identity theft, E-Verify may not be able to detect the theft and will issue work-authorized verification. 
On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, approximately 200 ICE agents swarmed Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky, Ohio and Castalia, Ohio and detained approximately 114 workers suspected of being in the country without proper work authorization. The workers are expected to be placed into deportation proceedings and many are expected to be criminally charged with identity theft and tax evasion.
This raid was unlike the previous raid in Bean Station because ICE initially served Notices of Inspection weeks before and had been auditing the 313 I-9 forms supplied by Corso’s. Before the service of the Notices of Inspection, ICE had been receiving tips into Corso’s Flower and Garden Center and began an investigation in October 2017. A triggering event was the arrest and indictment of Martha Buendia-Chavarria, who was charged with operating a document mill. 
During the ICE audit, according to ICE, they found 123 I-9 forms which were suspicious due to use of duplicate Social Security numbers and identification belonging to other people. Presumably, these identification documents were produced by Ms. Buendia-Chavarria. Thus, when the ICE agents raided the facilities, they had a list of names they had targeted for detention.
It is clear that employer raids will be a frequent tool of ICE. Every employer should be vigilant in their immigration compliance. I would advise employers to meet with their immigration counsel, or obtain immigration counsel, to conduct an internal I-9 audit and draft or review an immigration compliance policy. Though it should be noted, Fresh Mark said it conducts annual I-9 audits.

Bruce E. Buchanan is a founding partner at Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC with offices in Nashville and Atlanta, where he represents employers and individuals in immigration law, with a special emphasis on employer immigration compliance, and employers in employment/labor law matters. Mr. Buchanan received his law degree from the Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1982.