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Penalties for Hiring Undocumented Workers to Increase in March

Immigration Update

March 3, 2008

Effective March 27, 2008, penalties for knowingly hiring illegal workers will increase significantly, as part of a larger federal crackdown against illegal immigration that includes tightened border security, an increase in the number of workplace raids and an escalation in the number of arrests of individuals who have already been ordered out of the country.

In what will be the first increase in employer fines since 1999, the penalties announced by Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, will change as follows:

  • The minimum fine for knowingly hiring an unauthorized worker will increase from $275 to $375.
  • The maximum fine will increase from $2,200 to $3,200.
  • Repeat offenders will see their maximum penalties increase by $5,000, from $11,000 to $16,000 per violation.

The new fines are expected to be published in the Federal Register this week and will take effect March 27, 2008.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, criticizing Congress for failing to implement broader immigration reform measures last summer, said the penalty increases are part of a larger strategy to deal with the “economic magnet” that is luring people into the United States to work illegally.

“Congress didn’t give us immigration reform, so we are going to do what we can with the tools we have, and frankly we have made progress in doing quite a bit,” Secretary Chertoff said, highlighting recent convictions of company executives in Missouri and Indiana for illegal hiring, as examples of his department’s willingness to pursue employers more aggressively.

Secretary Chertoff also announced that, in an effort to crack down on the issue of identity fraud pervading some industries, the Department of Homeland Security will soon publish a new set of no-match rules that will punish employers who fail to act on discrepancies between a worker’s given Social Security number and the information contained in federal databases.

Last fall, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked a previous version of the no-match rules, siding with immigrant advocates, labor groups and employers who argued that federal databases were unreliable and the no-match rules too burdensome to implement. 

Secretary Chertoff said his department has also steadily increased its base of businesses using the E-Verify system to 53,000, allowing employers to verify work eligibility electronically before hiring.  That trend has encouraged some states, such as Indiana and Arizona, to enact their own statutes, as part of a patchwork of local immigration laws across the country that have filled the vacuum of federal reforms.