Immigration agency will audit 8 Utah businesses
By Arthur Raymond

Published: Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 11:25 p.m. MST

Eight Utah businesses are among 1,000 targeted across the country for audits of records that verify workers' identities and employment eligibility, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced Thursday.

ICE Assistant Secretary. John Morton said the companies on the list, none of which have been identified, are in industries with critical infrastructure and/or public safety connections and that all 1,000 are being audited as a result of investigative leads.

"ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces," Morton said. "We are increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules."

The effort is the second, large-scale worksite enforcement exercise targeting employers since a policy shift announced in April by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the agency would move away from workplace raids that targeted undocumented employees and refocus on dangerous criminal aliens and employers who knowingly ignore federal immigration laws.

Immigration enforcement efforts in Utah over the past several years have swept up undocumented workers at Universal Industrial Sales Inc., a Lindon company that manufactures steel highway products; and a Swift & Co. meat-packing plant in Hyrum, Cache County.

Now, however, the feds are more interested in the businesses than the employees.

In July, ICE conducted a nationwide sweep, similar to the one announced Thursday, but smaller in scope. A handful of Utah companies were subjected to the audit in the employer-focused effort. Salt Lake attorney Timothy Wheelwright is representing two of those companies and said the new federal enforcement scheme is much different than previous approaches.

"My observation has been that they are truly focusing on employers and haven't wanted to talk to employees," Wheelwright said. "It shows a significant change from their previous workplace investigations."

Wheelwright declined to identify his clients but said one company dealing with the fallout from the July audits, in the food industry, had document issues with about three-quarters of its 75 employees and was facing nearly $60,000 in fines. The other, a manufacturing firm, has yet to be fined, but ICE had found discrepancies with about a third of the legal presence paperwork for its 150 workers. Wheelwright said the new enforcement technique is getting the attention of Utah businesses.

"I can say that we have seen firsthand in Utah that ICE is following through with everything they said they were going to do," Wheelwright said. "They have serious, local resources, including forensic auditing specialists dedicated to this task."

Wheelwright said complying with federal requirements is not difficult to accomplish, and that starts with making sure the I-9 form that documents identity and the legal right to work in the U.S. is filled out for every employee.

An ICE spokeswoman said Thursday that while all the businesses that were served audit notices were red-flagged because of investigative leads, it does not indicate they are guilty of any immigration violations. In July, some 654 businesses were audited nationwide and of those, 326 were found to be in compliance or only issued warning notices to come into compliance. To date, about $2.3 million in fines was assessed as a result of those investigations and more than 260 cases are still pending. Wheelwright suggests those wishing to stay off ICE's audit lists adhere to regulations and, if necessary, seek help.

"There are some great resources available," Wheelwright said. "Any employer who thinks it may not happen to them does so at their own peril."

He recommends employers review publication M-274 available for free from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services. It can be found at: ... .html&pg=1