Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Does Homeland Security have eyes for you?

Just as Homeland Security spends endless days and nights listening to "chatter" by those who might do us harm, Asset Control stays up all night listening to Department of Homeland Security "chatter" to see just what they have in mind for employers in the battle against illegal immigration. Recently, we've picked up some chatter that might be of specific interest to you if you haven't been diligent in verifying the identity of new or existing employees!

While employers may have gotten away with ignoring the Social Security Administration's "no match" letters in the past, a new partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and the S.S.A. may put a damper on this approach. These are letters sent to employers with more than 10 workers, informing them that a particular employee's name does not match the SSN used. They are sent when the no matches for an employer is .5% or more of the company's total workforce. Sources inside the Bush administration now indicate that the President is planning new enforcement initiatives, even in the absence of new enforcement legislation. According to Russ Knocke, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, " We are tough and we are going to be even tougher." "There are not going to be any more excuses for employers, and there will be serious consequences for those that choose to blatantly disregard the law."

New enforcement guidelines are expected to give employers a fixed period of time to investigate and resolve any discrepancies between the identification provided by workers and records held by the Social Security Administration. Chatter has it that employers will have 90 days to resolve the discrepancy, fix the problem, or fire the employee. Employers that ignore the letters will risk fines up to $10,000 for each illegal worker. According to the Social Security Administration, over 140,000 no match letters, covering more than eight million workers, will be sent to employers this year.

But the Fed has threatened aggressive enforcement of immigration law in the past. In reality, the threats translated into token arrests, or photo opportunities, intended to do nothing more than give the perception that an enforcement program exited. What has changed? First, the Bush administration is being pressured by the conservative base to do something, anything, in the war against illegal immigration. One measure, to enforce existing law, can be taken without new legislation. Clearly, this has been a battle cry heard from both Republican and Democrat conservatives since the attack on 9/11. But the Fed must pick its battles, and the possibility of a great photo op is still a significant drawing card. This means that the day of the raid on wooden pallet manufacturing plants is probably past.

On August 2, just one day after the tragic I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, Jose S. Gonzalez was arrested at his office in Greenville, Mississippi. Gonzalez, owner of Tarrasco Steel, was a subcontractor who provided re-bar and installation services to major highway bridge construction projects. On March 29, 2007, ICE agents conducted worksite enforcement actions at the Greenville-Arkansas Highway 82 bridge in Greenville Mississippi; the Huey P. Long bridge in New Orleans, Louisiana; the US 90 bridge in Biloxi, Mississippi; the I-40 seismic retro-fit in Memphis, Tennessee, and the LA-1 bridge in Leeville, LA. These structures are all part of our nation's critical infrastructure and are closely scrutinized when it comes to security matters. During the March raid, several employees were arrested for using bogus Social Security Numbers. The investigation also revealed that the employees did not have proper welding certifications.

Did the Fed choose the timing of the arrest in light of the bridge collapse the previous day? Hard to say. It may have been the sensible action under the circumstances, particularly, from a public relations perspective. Note, that the investigation and subsequent enforcement action at bridges in Louisiana began very early in the year. So, it appears that the Fed was ahead of the curve in this particular case. Protecting infrastructure is a credible objective. Regardless, if what we have observed is part of an overall strategy by Homeland Security, we should expect to see more enforcement actions targeting aspects of our infrastructure; particularly, actions involving contractors receiving federal or state revenue.

So, where should we expect to see more enforcement efforts? If your company provides services in support of bridges, dams, roadways airports, hazardous waste, our food supply, the movement of cargo over land or water, water or water treatment, power generation, schools, security, or liquid or solid waste, do not take the "no match" letters lightly as many employers have in the past. And, expect that state and local authorities will partner with federal agencies to go after employers who hire skilled workers who may have bogus licenses or certificates.

Asset Control can assist employers in their efforts to hire legal workers. To find out how, call our offices at 940-891-1919. Don't let the Fed have a photo opportunity at your expense.


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