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Friday, March 11, 2011

Immigration Violations Costly

By: Tommy Eden, Attorney

Sometimes a bad hire decision can result in poor morale, an EEOC charge, a workplace injury, or in the case of former Howard Industries, Inc. HR Manager Jose Humberto Gonzalez a 2.5 million dollar fine. On December 9, 2009 Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to hire illegal immigrants in the United States Federal Courthouse in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was initially indicted on 24 counts of conspiracy and employee verification fraud in April 2009 following the August 25, 2008 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid at the Laurel, Miss. plant and Ellisville headquarters of Howard Industries, Inc. ICE reported it was the largest workplace raid of illegal immigrants in U.S. history with 595 arrested, nine were charged criminally with aggravated identity theft and pled guilty and many of the others left the United States.

The Federal Court indictment charged Gonzalez with: 1) encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the United States; 2) attempting to conceal and harbor illegal aliens; 3) falsely attesting to the validity of employment-related documents; 4) routinely hiring illegal aliens and in the process of hiring such would accept false identity documents, including alien registration receipt cards and Social Security Cards; 5) after being notified by the Social Security Administration that the Social Security numbers of certain applicants were not found to be valid, Gonzalez would nonetheless hire and continue to employ such persons; 6) would instruct employees to obtain alternative identity documents which he knew falsely represented their true identities; 7) would assure Spanish-speaking foreign nationals working at the Laurel plant that they would be warned if immigration authorities were coming to the plant and 17 other immigration law violations. On March 4, 2011, he was sentenced to 6 months house arrest, five years probation and fined $4,000.

It only gets worse, on February 25, 2011, Howard Industries, Inc., pled guilty in federal court in Laurel, Miss to conspiracy to violate immigration laws and agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine Howard Industries waived indictment and acknowledged that the fine was in excess of the fine amount ordinarily provided by statute for the single count of conviction.

Common Sense Counsel: The steps Alabama HR Managers should take to avoid their own Bad Hire Decision, and a hefty fine, is best expressed in a statement by the President of Howard Industries following Gonzalez’s plea hearing. “Since before the worksite investigation, Howard Industries had taken the following immigration compliance steps:” 1) “even before it was mandated, the company voluntarily participated in identification-verification systems, whereby the federal government checked the information maintained in the government’s databases” (E-Verify) 2) “implemented a fingerprint identification system to prevent the use of false identities” and 3) “the company also retained outside legal counsel to review all of the company’s human resource processes and procedures to insure they meet or exceed all immigration compliance legal requirements.”

Tommy Eden is an Auburn attorney with Capell & Howard, P.C. and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law, and presented throughout the State of Alabama on Immigration Workplace Compliance and also to the Governor’s Commission in 2008. He can be contacted at or 334-501-1540.