Photo: Businesses Struggling after Immigration Audits Cost them Workers, No One Willing to do the Work
Though some are praising the immigration audits of businesses that are suspected of hiring undocumented workers, business owners are not so happy.
Businesses that had previously employed undocumented workers are having major issues keeping their operations going after they were forced to remove a number of people from their workforce, as they were not authorized to work there.
In 2009, 1,444 businesses were audited by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was three time the number from 2008. In 2010 however, that number jumped to 2,196.
When audited, businesses are given letters informing them they have a certain number of days to hand over I-9 employment-eligibility forms for all current employees. While some businesses are not fined for hiring undocumented workers if it determined they did not break any laws by not knowing they were not legal to work in the U.S., other do not get away so easily.
For some, just having to let go large portions of their work force can mean disaster, especially for those that lose farm workers, as even though many Americans are without work, many are not wanting to take these jobs.
During the G.W. Bush administration, “headline-making raids” resulting in immigrant worker arrests were more common, while but under the current administration employers are the targets. The current I-9 audits are pushing the idea that the fact that employers are looking to hire undocumented workers for cheap labor is the reason for the majority of “illegal” immigration.
But for business owners like David Cox, of L.E. Cook nursery in Visalia, California, which grows deciduous trees and shrubs, having to let go of so much of his work force is increasing his expenses as his remaining workers are having to pick up the slack. In turn, this requires many of them to work overtime, earning time and a half, which is beginning to cripple Cox.
The New York Times reported that his 2009 audit had revealed that 26 of his 99 employees were not authorized to work in the U.S. Though he was not fined since he acted reasonably, he was left without half of what is called his budding crew, a highly specialize team that grafted trees. Those workers had been with him at least five, but as many as ten years.
Finding replacements hasn’t been easy, despite California’s high unemployment rate.
“I’ve gone through more workers this year than I have in the past 10 years combined,” Cox said.
Monte Lake, an immigration lawyer in Washington said that while the human side of the immigration issue can be difficult, employers still must comply with the law. He said there is no way to avoid an ICE audit, but following the law and staying with procedure will ensure that if an audit were to happen, the business would be protected from fines or other legal action.
Still, for Mr. Cox, “Telling [the undocumented workers] was probably the worst day of my life.”