In a recent story from the Los Angeles Times that shows how serious the U.S. government is about targeting companies who employ illegal workers, a major food-processing plant in the L.A. area terminated more than 200 employees after an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit found that those workers had provided “invalid or fraudulent” Social Security Numbers.
Described as “desktop raid,” a computer check of SSNs from the $200-million-a-year company that provides frozen meals for clients such as American Airlines, Safeway, and Jenny Craig, revealed that 260 workers – about a quarter of the company’s 1,000-plus largely Latino workforce – had provided Social Security numbers that were invalid or fraudulent.
While the government took no action against the workers, the company did; all of the employees were fired on May 31. According to the story, the company gave the workers 30 days to correct the problem with the IRS and provide the company with verification, but none did, and the company risked potential criminal liability under tax and immigration laws if it continued to employ them after the IRS audit. The company has already rehired workers for most positions.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has vowed to shift the emphasis to employers who hire illegal workers, and audits of employers’ records are an essential tool in such cases. Employers facing stiff fines and potential prison terms for hiring illegal immigrants may decide to fire employees who have suspect paperwork.
All of the dismissed factory workers were hired before the introduction of the DHS’s E-Verify system that allows employers to confirm the legal working status of new hires electronically by verifying Social Security numbers and other data. The program was designed as a weapon against the vast trade in fraudulent and stolen Social Security numbers. The processing plant now uses E-Verify for new hires.
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