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A federal crackdown on illegal immigrants in the workplace has triggered a tsunami of work for immigration lawyers, who say fears of getting hit with an immigration raid or audit are at an all-time high among employers. In the past year, employers big and small have flooded attorneys with calls for help in immigration compliance matters, fearing everything from audits and raids, to criminal charges and prison time. Attorneys are offering companies a wide range of advice, covering everything from how to spot a fake document or a phony Social Security number, to how to make sure immigration forms are accurately filled out. Some attorneys are even conducting “undercover missions,” in which they pose as illegal immigrants trying to get a job, a tactic that has proved successful in revealing shoddy interviewers who turn a blind eye to undocumented workers. Among the major areas of concern are: • The number of illegal immigrants arrested in the workplace has skyrocketed in recent years, from 485 in 2002 to more than 4,000 in 2007. • Workplace raids are triggering more lawsuits against employers, the most notable one involving a $23 million lawsuit pending against the Colorado-based Swift & Co. meatpacking firm, accused by 18 former employees of conspiring to keep wages down by hiring illegal immigrants. Valenzuela v. Swift Beef Co., No. 3:06-CV-2322-N (N.D. Texas). • A growing number of executives and managers are facing criminal charges, forfeitures and jail time for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, including two executives who agreed to forfeit $4.7 million after pleading guilty in 2006 to hiring illegal immigrants to build fences at military bases in California. USA v. Fenceworks Inc., No. 06cr2604 (S.D. Calif.). Two Maryland executives also currently face a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in December to turning a blind eye and hiring illegal immigrants to work at their temporary employment agencies. Wave of new laws About two dozen states in recent years have passed � or tried to pass � tougher immigration laws that penalize employers who hire undocumented workers. Arizona passed the harshest such law last year, suspending the business license of any employer that knowingly hires an undocumented worker. A second offense would lead to license revocation. “Employers are fearful everywhere,” said Hector Chichoni, who manages the immigration practice at the Miami office of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. “Many employers have seen the news. They go back and talk to their human resource departments and say, ‘Let’s get prepared just in case something happens.’ “ That “something” is a raid or audit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency charged with enforcing immigration laws. In recent years, ICE has publicly vowed to step up its enforcement of immigration laws by aggressively going after employers that flout the law. “Be concerned. It could happen to you,” said ICE spokeswoman Pat Reilly, readily admitting that the federal government is going after employers that hire illegal workers like never before. “We’ve made it a priority. We feel that by going after illegal hiring we are turning off the magnet for illegal immigration.” Reilly said a new strategy that ICE is using in combating illegal immigration is pursuing criminal charges against employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. She noted that the old way of doing things was to fine employers administratively. Companies figured that was a cost of doing business, she said, and just paid the fine. Now, Reilly stressed, ICE is pursuing criminal charges: Employers could wind up facing million-dollar forfeitures and prison time. Scare tactic that works It’s a scare tactic that’s working, said immigration lawyer Carl Falstrom of McGlinchey Stafford in New Orleans. “What really has people scared is jail time and asset forfeiture cases, where [the government] can go in and say, ‘It’s not a fine. We’re going to take a piece of your business away, or all of it.’ And that is making a lot of people extremely nervous,” said Falstrom, who in recent years has seen a 100% increase in business from clients seeking help with immigration. “Employers are worried because for so many years, there was no enforcement of this stuff.” Falstrom said that employers find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to immigration. If they ask too many questions of a job applicant, they could get hit with a discrimination lawsuit. If they don’t ask enough questions, they could get hit with an ICE raid, audit or criminal charges. “Would you prefer to open yourself up to a flood of discrimination lawsuits?” Falstrom said. “Or, would you prefer to run the risk that ICE is going to come in and take your business from you?” Falstrom believes the former is the better option, noting that a discrimination suit is less damaging than going to jail or losing a business. Meanwhile, in Houston, business is booming for immigration lawyer Jacob Monty of Monty Partners, whose managementside firm has delved into a whole new area of work: mock auditing. The firm has hired former Department of Homeland Security investigators who, together with attorneys, go to companies � often posing as undocumented workers � and investigate and audit their hiring practices. “Immigration compliance is just going through the roof, and it’s large employers and small employers,” said Monty, who is defending a number of employers facing immigration lawsuits. “It’s such a ripe area for lawyers.” Undercover mission Monty recalled one undercover mission for a client in which he himself donned a fake mustache, pretending to be an immigrant trying to get a job. In Spanish, he told the interviewer that his documents were good � they just weren’t his. “The lady grabbed them and sent me to orientation,” recalled Monty, who said his audits often reveal questionable hiring practices. “Some employers will say, ‘Hey, we want you to do an audit.’ We’ll go in and find a host of problems.” Monty said a key problem for many employers is that human resources employees are letting undocumented workers slip through � either knowingly or unknowingly � but top management doesn’t know about it. An even bigger problem, he said, is some employers simply don’t know how to spot an undocumented worker. “For those employers who think you can spot ‘em, you can’t,” Monty said. “Many times these folks are well documented with counterfeit documents.”

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