Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Hiring the Legal

When I hear that there are some 12 million illegal workers in this country, I wonder where the system has gone wrong. We have had certain types of control over illegal workers since 1987 when President Reagan signed a landmark immigration bill. 

That bill gave amnesty to all workers who had been in this country for a certain number of years and allowed them to continue to work. They could eventually achieve permanent resident status and, if they wanted, to become citizens. 

The bill also required employers to verify the immigration status of people employed after the bill was signed, giving rise to the form I-9. Under the law, companies who employed illegal aliens were subject to a severe penalty for each violation — technical or otherwise. The penalty is between $250 and $2,000 for a first and second violation and $10,000 for a third. Now, 20 years later, we are in the same quandary. 

Where are all of those I-9 forms? 

The 1987 act is still in effect and can still be enforced by the Department of Homeland Security, and with the way Congress acts, it may be the only bill we have for several years to come, so we need to follow the current law.

Some tips and suggestions:

• An I-9 form must be completed by every new employee of your company. The size of your company does not matter nor does the relationship of the employee to the employer (child, spouse, etc.). I Googled the I-9 and had a copy downloaded to my computer in less that 15 seconds. You should have the form I-9 on file for every employee hired after 1987.

• The I-9 must be reviewed in person. Sending a form to someone and asking for copies of documents does not fulfill the requirements of the law. An official of the company must physically see the forms.

• The form explains the identification required. If the employee has a passport or Green Card, that is sufficient. If not, two forms of identification may be required — one a picture ID from a state or federal source to establish identity, and the second to establish the right to work, generally a Social Security card. It is important to see the original documents personally. 

• You are not held responsible for the validity of the documents. You should be able to spot an obvious forgery, but your responsibility goes to seeing the documents, not verifying the genuineness of the document.

• You should see the documents after a person is hired, not before. They should be seen and documented within three days of start date. 

• You may attach a copy of the documents to the I-9 you have filed, but if you attach a copy for one employee, you should do it for all. You may start to do it as of a given date, but you must do it all the time thereafter.

In the infinite wisdom of our government, the I-9 contains information that could be considered discriminatory if the timing is not followed to the letter. If a company has an employee complete the form before an offer of employment is made, then the date of birth on the form could give rise to discrimination. So could information about national origin. 

Of course, if all employers followed the rules on the I-9, illegal aliens could not work. Yet they do. In big cities, the appropriate documents are available on the street. 

A few years ago, a company we knew was working in the Hudson Valley to build kiosks. It had a large number of employees who were of Hispanic origin. The company had carefully verified each employee’s right to work and had an I-9 on every one. 

One day a police officer came into the plant to ask the plant manager a question. As soon as they saw him, 150 employees ran for the exits fearing an immigration raid. The next day, the company had to double check every piece of identification on the employees, thus losing a day’s production. 

One employee was told that his documents were not in order and he promptly told the manager that they must be in order, as he had just bought them.

We have not yet been inundated by illegal workers in Vermont, but it seems to me that it is inevitable. 

So is better enforcement. •

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

Index of Contributed Columns

For information on submitting a contributed column see here.