In May 2006 federal officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE” to you and me, still the same old “la Migra” to immigrants) swept down onto jobsites being run by Fischer Homes in northern Kentucky. They arrested 76 undocumented workers and hauled four supervisors off in handcuffs. Agents locked down the company headquarters and carted away records. A total of six Fischer employees were charged with violating federal immigration law, but after three years, not a single one has been prosecuted and it looks like the charges are going to be dropped.
What happened? Jim Fischer, who started the company decades ago as a young man, refused a plea bargain and fought back. He spent more than $3-million in attorney’s fees and court costs. But he also did something else that was smart. He hired a journalist, Jon Entine of the American Enterprise Institute, and offered Entine full access so he could write a book about the ordeal. The book is titled “No Crime But Prejudice-Fischer Homes, the Immigration Fiasco and Extra-judicial Prosecution.
The case against Fischer had the potential to set a troublesome legal precedent; mainly that general contractors could be held liable for illegal immigrants hired by their subcontractors. But since the government is not pressing charges at this time it appears that this argument failed to gain traction. Still, some of the subcontractors involved in the Fischer case were prosecuted and fined, even if Fischer was not. National Public Radio has the best story on the topic. If you listen to their audio version you’ll hear examples of some of the conversations undercover ICE agents used to gather evidence. It sounds pretty close to entrapment to me.
Nonetheless, if you want to avoid paying millions in lawyers fees and having to befriend journalists to save your company, I’d recommend you keep your I-9 forms up to date and take advantage of the U.S. Customs and Immigration E-Verify program that we wrote about in the September 2006 issue of Equipment World. Ask your subcontractors to do the same, just to be on the safe side.