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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) SWAT officers gear up in this image on Wikipedia dated from 2004.

published on February 2, 2018 - 2:17 PM
Written by David Castellon

Farm Employers Labor Services has issued a warning to its members that some Valley packinghouses have had their employees’ I-9 forms audited by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Employees fill out I-9 forms to verify they can legally work in the U.S. The forms include a list of eligibility documents, which can include driver licenses, Social Security cards or green cards.

The announcement from Farm Employers Labor Service (FELS) offers no details of what businesses notified them or if any audits actually have occurred.

It does say “ICE agents seeking to audit your Forms I-9 and related documents will provide you with a ‘72-hour’ or ‘Notice of Inspection’ letter specifying which documents they are requesting and when and how they want you to transmit them. The other possibility is an onsite enforcement visit.”

The email goes on to say that packinghouses aren’t required to provide the documents unless ICE agents provide warrants, but “ICE often [though not always] has a search warrant or has issued a legal writ such as a subpoena to compel compliance.”

ICE checking businesses’ I-9 documents isn’t unheard of, but it’s not common either, said Madera County Farm Bureau President Jay Mahil, noting that in the 18 years he has operated a farm, the immigration agency never has checked his records.

By law, if the documents presented by an employee with an I-9 look valid, an employer can’t challenge them, said Dave Kranz, a spokesman for FELS, an affiliate of the California Farm Bureau Federation that assists members in complying with labor laws and avoiding labor relations problems.

Employers aren’t required to conduct secondary investigations to verify if their employees are eligible to work in the U.S., added Mahil.

ICE can check the validity of the documents, and they can detain and possibly deport anyone who provided invalid information about their status.

When asked whether this might be a precursor to immigration raids on Valley packinghouses, Kranz said, “I think that’s a stretch.”

”We don’t know that there’s anything unusual here,” though he noted recent raids by ICE in the Bay Area and Northern California.

The Trump Administration has expanded immigration enforcement efforts over the past year, which has worried many immigrant workers in Valley farming operations and reportedly has reduced the number of people willing to cross the U.S.-Mexican Border illegally to work here.

After ICE agents conducted raids earlier this month on 98 7-Eleven convenience stores in 17 states, including California — checking employees’ status to work in the country legally — the agency’s acting director, Thomas D. Homan, announced “Today’s actions send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal work force: ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable.”

Regardless of the potential for immigration raids, just ICE checking employment records could have devastating effects on packinghouses, as some workers who become aware of this may stop coming to work altogether, Mahil said.

It may not be just undocumented workers, he said, explaining that even some workers with valid documentation to live and work here may fear being caught up in raids and detained or questioned about what they know about co-workers.

That is a worrisome prospect for employers, Mahil said, because “Obviously, the labor force in the area is already light,” and large numbers of people not showing up for work could make thing worse.

The timing is bad for such scenarios because fruit packers are in a busy period.

Calls for comment from ICE officials at their San Francisco and San Diego offices were not immediately returned.


Preparing for ICE inspections

For any packinghouses receiving notifications from ICE of I-9 Forms inspections, FELS offers the following information:

– You may not furnish documents in addition to those specified in the “72-hour letter” or “Notice of Inspection” without being compelled to do so by a judicial warrant or subpoena.

– You must give notice of inspection of Forms I-9 and related documents to employees within 72 hours of receiving the notice of inspection.

– You must furnish a copy of any agency notice providing the results of the inspection of documents provided pursuant to the notice of inspection to affected employees — and any exclusive bargaining representative who may represent the employees — within 72 hours of receipt. This notice must include a description of deficiencies or other items identified in the written immigration inspection results related to the affected employee, the time allowed for correcting any deficiencies, the time and date of any meeting with the employer to correct any identified deficiencies, and notice that the employee has a right to representation by any exclusive bargaining representative that may represent the employees.

– You also must provide an affected employee with a copy of the notice of inspection upon reasonable request.

Further information is available by calling FELS at 800-753-9073.


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