Illegal Immigration was a significant topic in the last two election cycles and continues to be the focus of media stories throughout the country. The Trump Administration has maintained a persistent, and sometimes unlawful, campaign to prevent illegal immigration as well as lawful migration.
And this administration has taken a much harder approach than previous administrations in dealing with employers who harbor undocumented workers. A recent crackdown in North Texas exemplifies this approach—a a reminder for all employers throughout the state of Texas that federal authorities are watching.
What Happened in North Texas
A few years ago, a North Texas business was caught employing dozens of undocumented workers. Federal law prohibits employers from knowingly employing undocumented persons who are not authorized to work in the United States. As part of a plea deal, the business was told to fire the undocumented workers.
The business didn’t fire the workers. Instead, they moved 23 workers over to a staffing company. This is a common practice among employers who hire undocumented workers and want to keep them on the payroll.
In the past, the practice has largely been ignored by immigration enforcement officials. The workers themselves tend to faced consequences while the employers traditionally pid a fine and moved on.
Not with the North Texas case.
The vice president of the business’s plant operations currently faces a felony count of conspiracy to unlawfully harbor illegal aliens.
Four additional employees face misdemeanor counts of unlawful employment of aliens.
These individuals face fines up to $69,000 as well as jail time for the charges.
So how much jail time can a Texas business face for employing or harboring undocumented immigrants today?
Federal Charges and Penalties on Harboring Undocumented Immigrants
The penalties depend on a number of factors, including how many people were involved and how they arrived in the United States.
Different federal charges also come with different penalties, and harboring undocumented immigrants is a different charge than unlawful employment. It’s also separate from any related fraud charges.
Harboring Undocumented Immigrants
Federal law states that an employer has harbored undocumented immigrants when he or she knowingly “conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation.”
A conviction can result in a five-year prison sentence. If prosecutors prove that an offender harbored undocumented workers for “commercial advantage or private financial gain,” the prison time can double.
Unlawful Employment of Undocumented Immigrants
What happens when an individual or business employs undocumented immigrants?
Make no mistake – any employer who knows the status of an undocumented immigrant and hires them anyway may face misdemeanor or felony charges.
Misdemeanor charges may result in months behind bars and fines up to $3,000. That’s for each undocumented immigrant that hired.
If at least 10 individuals are hired during the same period (say for a construction job), the charges are elevated to a felony. Prison time increases to five years when prosecutors secure a conviction.
Employer Fraud Concerning Undocumented Immigrants
Federal law also makes it a felony to “use a false identification document, or misuse a real one, for the purpose of satisfying the employment verification provisions.”
Any forgery of documents, I-9s, or tax forms can also result in a five-year prison sentence.
Data Says the Feds Seem to Be Just Warming Up
The employers at the North Texas business may have thought they were off the hook after they paid fines and entered a plea agreement a few years ago, but the initial investigation only put them under more scrutiny from ICE and other federal agencies.
When it comes to crimes involving undocumented immigrants, Texas is under a magnifying glass. Homeland Security investigators have been overactive in the state in recent years.
In 2018 alone, investigations and audits increased by 750% over the previous year. This increased law enforcement attention can be attributed to the fact that the Southern and Western districts of Texas are currently cited as two of the top five regions for smuggling undocumented immigrants.
Furthermore, as we mentioned, it’s not just the undocumented workers facing possible charges and penalties. Employers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to facing felony charges for their role in hiring and harboring undocumented workers.
Don’t let your business get caught in the cross-hairs of this federal assault on Texas employers. If you do wind up on the wrong side of an accusation, don’t face charges of harboring (or employing) illegal workers alone.
Reach out to a federal defense attorney with experience going up against federal immigration charges. A solid defense strategy could mean the difference between damaging and maintaining your reputation or company.