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ICE’s Investigation of Alleged Immigration Violations in Hiring Practices Leads to a Guilty Plea for Owners and Managers of Wei’s Super Buffet Restaurants

October 30, 2014

What is Immigration Compliance and Why Should You Care?

Immigration compliance is a growing concern for most employers because the focus of government enforcement efforts has shifted from targeting employees to employers.  There has been less and less of the vans rounding up workers and more prosecution and civil fines assessed against employers.  The government expects immigration compliance from employers, which includes the completion of an error-free Form I-9 on every employee and the implementation of immigration plans, policies, and procedure to ensure correct I-9 practices.  Failure to comply with these regulations has landed many employers in jail, fined, or both.

 

Criminal Penalties for Immigration Violations by Employers

The federal government has the authority to seek criminal and civil punishment for immigration violations by employers.  Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) has, however, made criminal prosecution of employers a priority when dealing with immigration violations.  Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), criminal prosecutions can include multiple years in jail and/or fines for employers who may violate immigration regulations and a wide range of these penalties are frequently used.

 

Even Harsher Penalties Under RICO

Criminal penalties do not stop with IRCA, however.  ICE has made it a point to use every tool against employers that they can, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which is a federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties for those involved in organized crime.  RICO also contains criminal forfeiture provisions, which authorizes the court to impose a forfeiture on any property involved or traceable to the RICO offense.  The forfeiture extends to an employer’s business assets as well as personal assets in most cases.

 

Most people don’t connect immigration violations, such as hiring unauthorized workers, with “organized crime”, but the federal government differs.  RICO charges such as money laundering and harboring have been implemented against employers based on immigration violations as a way for the federal government to prosecute employers to the fullest extent of the law.  “Harboring” can be as simple as providing an opportunity for employment.

 

ICE’s Investigation of Alleged Immigration Violations by a Kansas City area Restaurant Leads to Criminal Guilty Pleas

Recently, the owners and managers of two restaurants, Wei’s Super Buffet, in Olathe, Kansas and Kansas City, MO, were charged and pleaded guilty to immigration violations.  In October 2014, the owner of the two restaurants, Wei Liu, pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to employ and harbor illegal alien workers.  Mr. Liu admitted to employing at least twelve undocumented workers.  These acts of harboring carry with them a maximum of ten years in federal prison and fines up to $250,000.

 

Family and Employees, Not Just Owners, Had to Plead Guilty

Owners are not the only people “on the hook” when the federal government decides to investigate businesses.  ICE specifically stated in an internal Worksite Enforcement Memo that they are targeting employers, which refers to “someone involved in the hiring or management of employees…this includes CEOs, supervisors, managers and other occupational titles.”  Realistically, this means that regardless of the size of the company or who takes the blame, the federal government has the opportunity to punish anyone in the chain of management for immigration violations.

 

In the case of Wei’s Super Buffet, not only was Mr. Liu involved, but so were his wife, sister, and two other defendants.  They pleaded guilty to other federal charges, including aiding and abetting wire fraud and making a false statement to Homeland Security Investigation officials.  Each of these defendants face between five and twenty years in federal prison and each may be fined up to $250,000.

 

What do Restaurants Need to do to Comply with Immigration Law Requirements

Lately, it is not unusual to see an investigation by ICE end with federal criminal charges and/or hefty fines against employers, which, as we have seen here, includes owners as well as managers and anyone else involved in the business.  Compliance with immigration regulations is vital not only for a business’s survival, but also for the owner’s own personal protection.  Employers can take the first step to compliance by training someone within the company on immigration compliance-related issues.

 

Danielle Atchison, Business Immigration Attorney
MDIVANI CORPORATE IMMIGRATION LAW FIRM
7007 College Blvd., # 460, Overland Park, KS 66211 USA
Phone :: 913.317.6200
Email :: DAtchison@uslegalimmigration.com

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