Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Government Pot Calling the Private Employer Kettle Black

Homeland_security UPDATE BELOW

We've posted many stories on the government's crackdown this year against companies using undocumented workers (see here for one example).  The Washington Post today is reporting on a story so ironic that it would be comical but for the serious consequences affecting the people involved.  Apparently, the Secret Service had been screening domestic employees of a company that cleaned the home of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose ICE division is responsible for the workplace immigration raids.  The problem?  Several undocumented employees still got through and were working at Chertoff's house.  The person held responsible?  The owner of the cleaning company (in addition to the workers of course).  According to the Post:

Every few weeks for nearly four years, the Secret Service screened the IDs of employees for a Maryland cleaning company before they entered the house of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the nation's top immigration official. The company's owner says the workers sailed through the checks -- although some of them turned out to be illegal immigrants.

Now, owner James D. Reid finds himself in a predicament that he considers especially confounding. In October, he was fined $22,880 after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators said he failed to check identification and work documents and fill out required I-9 verification forms for employees, five of whom he said were part of crews sent to Chertoff's home and whom ICE told him to fire because they were undocumented.

"Our people need to know," said the Montgomery County businessman. "Our Homeland Security can't police their own home. How can they police our borders?"

Reid admits he made mistakes but called the fine so excessive that it may put him out of business. Several of his workers moved after ICE agents showed up at their homes, he said. . . .
The Secret Service uses workers' ID information to conduct security checks, not immigration checks, much like most police departments do when they pull over people for traffic stops. . . .

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said that in this type of investigation, ICE focuses on the employers, not where employees are dispatched. He said that contractors have the responsibility of ensuring that their workers are legal, and that the Chertoffs were assured by Reid that workers sent to their home were legal. Upon learning that Reid might have hired illegal immigrants, the Chertoffs fired him, and the secretary recused himself from the department's subsequent enforcement actions, Knocke said.

There are obviously differences in the Secret Service's function and that of ICE, but this just looks bad (although I'm not particularly sympathetic to the employer here).  I'm curious whether the Secret Service knew the workers were undocumented.  If they did, I'm heartened by a law enforcement agency not automatically report immigration problems, as undocumented status doesn't necessarily pose a security risk and always reporting these problems can often undermine law enforcement goals. 

UPDATE

[Following the original publication of this post, we received the following response from DHS, which we agreed to publish here:

The Department of Homeland Security saw that Workplace Prof Blog was covering today’s Washington Post story about Secretary Chertoff's employment of a cleaning service that hired illegal immigrants. The DHS Press Office would appreciate it if you would consider including the response of DHS spokesman Russ Knocke in your coverage:

"Every contractor in the United States has the responsibility of ensuring their workers are legal. As customers, the Chertoffs obtained assurances from Mr. Reid that any personnel he dispatched to their home were authorized to work in the United States.

As soon as the Chertoffs learned that Mr. Reid deceived them by employing some unauthorized workers, they fired him. Further, Secretary Chertoff recused himself from any involvement in immigration enforcement actions that could follow.

The United States Secret Service maintains a round the clock security presence at the residences of protectees, and screens individuals who enter a residence or have business to conduct on the property.

This matter illustrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and the importance of effective tools for companies to determine the lawful status of their workforce.

More 91,000 employers have enrolled in E-verify, and there were more than 6.6 million workers checked last year. E-verify is free, fast and available online for employers. It is unfortunate that Mr. Reid did not acknowledge his own personal responsibility and check the eligibility of his work force."

Thanks,

Caroline Dierker
Assistant Press Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
]

I'll certainly second the notion that this is yet another reminder that we need comprehensive immigration reform.

-JH

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Comments

If Newt Gingrich's name is not in the subject line, many of us will just delete it.

If Newt Gingrich's name is in the Subject line, you can rest assured almost all e-mails received will be read.

Posted by: John | Dec 16, 2008 3:04:06 PM

A number of years ago, I had a small business in Florida. We had a number of female employees of Mexican decent. Each had provided us with Social Security cards and other personal information which established that they were here legally as a minimum and, we assumed based on their documentation, citizens. We filed federal withholding taxes, unemployment taxes, and both the employees and our (employer) social security, medicare, and federal unemployment taxes using the Social Security numbers provided by the employees. These people were employees for a number of years, yet when it was decided to "lease" the employees the leasing company discovered that 3 employees were not in the country legally.
So here is my question: Who is to blame? We as the employers who are not trained to tell a valid from a forged Social Security card, or the Federal and State governments who could not detect that taxes were being paid for a valid Social Security number? REMEMBER this . . . a credit card company can respond within seconds as to the validity of a credit card . . . accept or decline. So let's not blame the companies . . . this is one thing that the government should be able to get right.

Posted by: Mike Geverd | Dec 16, 2008 7:11:03 PM

The Chertoff house cleaning employees' legal status is a classic case of the government employees absolving themselves of responsibility and then passing the responsibility on to the employer.

Employers should be held responsible for CHECKING the legal working status of prospective employees with the Federal clearing house - BUT they cannot be held responsible if the Federal response is in error, or non existant.

Posted by: wizardol | Dec 16, 2008 10:20:16 PM

The SS number may have been a stolen ID and would be credited to someone else's account. My brother-in-law who was on disability got into all kinds of trouble because someone else used his Social Security number and it appeared that he was working when he was not. He nearly lost his disability payments over the false reporting.

Posted by: Sharon | Dec 17, 2008 2:15:47 PM

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