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NM fast-food restaurant chain joins HSI 'IMAGE' program

NM fast-food restaurant chain joins HSI 'IMAGE' program
NM fast-food restaurant chain joins HSI 'IMAGE' program
NM fast-food restaurant chain joins HSI 'IMAGE' program
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A New Mexico fast-food chain joined U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Friday in a nationwide program that helps employers strengthen hiring practices, and prevents the unlawful employment of unauthorized workers.

Blake’s Lotaburger, which employs about 1,200 employees in its 76 locations, was certified as an "ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers," or IMAGE, partner during a ceremony Friday. IMAGE is a voluntary program that allows private industry to partner with ICE to reduce unauthorized employment and the use of fraudulent identity documents.

Dennis A. Ulrich II, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso, and Cristin M. Heyns, Blake’s director of human resources and corporate counsel, signed an agreement Jan. 31 making Blake’s Lotaburger a full member of the IMAGE program.

"HSI is pleased to welcome Blake’s Lotaburger as its newest IMAGE partner," said Ulrich. "One of the benefits for businesses that join IMAGE is increasing the reputation of their brand and their company."

Ulrich added that HSI is striving to achieve the highest level of workforce integrity throughout the country by coordinating closely with industry partners, such as Blake’s Lotaburger. Ulrich oversees HSI operations in west Texas and the state of New Mexico.

The Blake’s Lotaburger fast-food chain is the second company in Albuquerque, and among hundreds nationwide, which has committed to work with HSI to maintain a lawful workforce. Blake’s opened a store last month in El Paso, Texas.

"Blake's Lotaburger is happy to partner with HSI on this important initiative toward the joint goal of total compliance with employer responsibilities under immigration law," said Heyns. "We encourage other employers to take advantage of the wealth of resources available, including the E-Verify program and the personal guidance offered by HSI auditors and special agents."

Undocumented workers can create vulnerabilities in today's marketplace by presenting false documents to gain employment, completing applications for fraudulent benefits, and stealing identities of U.S. citizens and other authorized workers.

ICE established the IMAGE program in 2006 to work toward a legal and more secure work force. It provides private companies with education and training on proper hiring procedures, including use of employment screening tools such as E-Verify. IMAGE-certified companies also undergo an audit of their I-9 forms to ensure their current employees are eligible to work in the United States.

As of December 31, 2013, there are 253 IMAGE members. An additional 108 companies have agreed to partner with IMAGE and are awaiting certification.

All IMAGE members must participate in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. Through this program, employers can verify that newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States. This Internet-based system is available throughout the nation and is free to employers. It provides an automated link to the Social Security Administration database and DHS immigration records.

Upon enrollment in and commitment to the IMAGE Best Employment Practices, program participants are deemed "IMAGE certified," a distinction DHS and ICE believe will become an industry standard. IMAGE also provides to all employers free training on the Form I-9, fraudulent document detection, and building a solid immigration compliance model.

Companies interested in more information on the IMAGE program can visit www.ICE.gov/image; New Mexico-based companies can also call HSI Albuquerque at 505-452-4934.