Tougher Consequences for I-9 Mistakes as Fines Rise

Tougher Consequences for I-9 Mistakes as Fines Rise

By Jennifer Gladstone

Today’s blog starts with a rags-to-riches, possibly back-to-rags story.

David Jones was one of 58 children born to a practicing polygamist living in abject poverty in Mexico. Jones left Mexico for America when he was 15 and supported himself doing drywall. He became invaluable to his employer, Ketchikan Drywall in Seattle. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Dor Reno, the owner of the company depended on Jones to provide hundreds of cheap laborers, but it turns out most of them were in the states illegally.

When Jones had a falling out with his boss, he moved across the country to the D.C. area and started his own firm, DJ Drywall. For years the company followed the same hiring practices. Prosecutors say 89 percent of the workers in the multi-million dollar firm were illegal.

DJ Drywall has been on the government’s radar for years. ICE auditors fined the company nearly $60,000 after audits in 2008 and 2011. The investigation took a turn in May of 2013 when investigators got a tip that Jones was not only hiring illegal workers and paying low wages off the books, but that he “encouraged” undocumented workers to submit false I-9s and green cards.

In February Jones pleaded guilty to one criminal charge. He was fined $25,000 in personal fines; his company owes $75,000 in civil penalties. The company will also be on probation for five years, during which time it is required to use the federal E-Verify system on all hires. They will also be required to run background checks.

In addition to the fines, Defense attorney David Smith told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the Jones family had to take on crushing debt to keep the company afloat. “He has lost his business and left himself and his wife saddled with debts which leave them with a negative net worth as they approach their 50’s,” Smith said. “David is the proverbial self-made man who overcame significant disadvantages, only to lose everything through a series of bad decisions regarding who to hire.”

Efforts to Give Form I-9 Laws Some Teeth

Something repeated over and over by the prosecutors and the judge in the Jones case is that too many businesses are run this way. If used, and used properly, E-Verify is extremely effective, but according to Reno, “this crime is rampant in our country and there’s no fix for it.”  The prosecutor blames Congress saying there has been no will to enforce the E-Verify system which has turned efforts to keep unauthorized workers out of the workforce into an “unmitigated failure.”

There are some efforts being made.  Higher penalties recently went into effect for mistakes on Form I-9s. As of August 1, 2016 two types of violations will be punished more harshly:

  • Employment of individuals who are not authorized to work in the U.S.
  • Form I-9 paperwork errors

The increases are a Federal mandate. Fines will go up — here is the range:

  • First offense, which ranged between $375 and $3,200 per unauthorized alien, will increase to between $539 and $4,313.
  • Subsequent offenses, previously ranging between $4,300 and $16,000, will increase to between $6,469 and $21,563 per unauthorized alien.
  • Paperwork violations leading to fines were previously set between $110 and $1,100, and have now increased to between $216 and $2,156 per individual.

Compliance is key. Keep an eye out for our upcoming series on Form I-9 FAQs. It will help you review your process and make sure you’re doing everything possible to follow the law.

About the Author

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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