U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents keep an eye out for industries with a high Hispanic workforce, waiting for the right moment to pounce and levy astronomical fines. While the enforcement strategy has changed since President Obama took office, from the highly-publicized immigration raids to I-9 audits, the goal is still the same — enforcing U.S. immigration laws. Employers in the meat and poultry industry are faced with complying with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) while dealing with the constant flow of applicants who lack legal immigration status who present “good papers” purchased from document vendors.

Form I-9 requirements

IRCA requires employers to confirm the identity and work authorization status of its workforce through Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form. The Form I-9 contains three Lists of Acceptable Documents that outline the type of documents an employee may present to establish identity and work authorization. The documents under List A establish both identity and work authorization. However, a List B document establishes identity only and the List C document establishes work authorization only. Therefore, employees must present a List B AND List C document to establish both identity and work authorization.

Some employers in the industry also use E-Verify as an additional compliance tool. E-Verify is a free Web-based system that confirms the information on the employee’s I-9 with records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

Unfortunately, neither the Form I-9 nor E-Verify are able to detect identity fraud if the documentation presented by the employee is based on a real identity. The monetary penalties for knowingly hiring and continuing to employ unauthorized workers range from $375 to $16,000. In an industry where a single employer can have more than 10,000 employees, a company can run the risk of receiving a fine ranging from $3,750,000 to $160,000,000. Additionally, employers are being fined more frequently for each error found on an employee’s Form I-9 with violations ranging from $110 to $1,100 per violation (i.e., $1 million to $11 million for a company with 10,000 employees).

Recent regulatory changes to the Form I-9 process require employers to accept only those documents that are currently valid (i.e., no expired documents). By requiring employees to present current and valid documents, an employer is more likely to detect the use of fraudulent documents purchased by the employee at the local flea market. To combat the prevalence of fake identity and List C documents such as social security cards and birth certificates, both state and federal entities are now issuing documents with increased security features to prevent the likelihood of identity theft.

A new green card, less ID theft

In an effort to prevent counterfeiting, tampering, and allow for quicker and more accurate authentication of the cardholder’s status, the federal government has updated the I-551 Permanent Resident Card, or what is commonly referred to as the “green card.” On May 11, 2010, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it started issuing a newly redesigned I-551. The I-551 appears on the Lists of Acceptable Documents as a List A document. The I-551 allows the employee to establish both identity and work eligibility status. For employers using E-Verify’s photo tool, the picture that appears on the I-551 will also appear on the E-Verify screen prior to confirming the employment authorization of the new employee.

The new “green card” features state-of-the-art technology and is also green in color. Some of the added security features on the front include:

l Color-shifting ink (gold to green) similar to that found on new dollar bills;

l Grayscale laser photo instead of a color photo standard in previous green cards;

l Laser engraved “swoosh” of the cardholder’s name and date of birth;

The back of the new “green card” features:

l Laser engraved individual card serial number;

l President Obama’s official portrait;

l A preprinted return address to enable the easy return of a lost card to USCIS.

The new green card and your business

The meat and poultry industries are now dominated by a growing ethnic population that consists of Hispanics. The industry also has a high turnover rate, whether from Hispanics or other ethnic/racial groups. Therefore, human resources should not be surprised to see the new green cards making an appearance during the I-9 process. However, remember that Hispanics can either be U.S. citizens by birth or naturalization, or immigrants to this country. Those Hispanics who are legal permanent residents may choose to present the I-551, which is a List A document, during the Form I-9 process. Employers should expect to see these new green cards presented by individuals who recently became legal permanent residents and for those individuals who renewed a previously expired legal permanent resident card.

While it is exciting to see the onus of having a legal workforce decrease with the issuance of a green card featuring state-of-the-art technology, employers must still comply with all applicable anti-discrimination laws. Under IRCA, this means that an employer CANNOT specify which document an employee must present to support his or her I-9. As long as the document(s) is an unexpired List A or List B and C document, the employee has the right to choose which document(s) to present.

Furthermore, remember that the only document that employers need to re-verify is the employment authorization document which grants temporary work authorization. Employers CANNOT re-verify an expired legal permanent resident card in the hopes of making the employee present the new green card. A legal permanent resident has permanent work authorization similar to that enjoyed by the U.S. citizen.