Washington apple orchard fined millions following ICE audit
SEATTLE – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reached a multimillion dollar settlement Tuesday with Prescott-based Broetje Orchards, LLC, for its civil violations of the Immigration Reform and Control Act related to verifying U.S. employment eligibility.
The Eastern Washington company will pay $2.25 million in civil penalties. This will remedy Employment Eligibility Verification form (Form I-9) issues uncovered during an administrative audit by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The latest audit conducted last summer revealed that nearly 950 of the company’s employees were suspected of not being authorized to work in the United States.
Under the settlement agreement, Broetje Orchards does not admit to any criminal wrongdoing, but does acknowledge HSI auditors found that it continued to employ unauthorized workers after being advised by ICE those employees did not have permission to work in the United States. The agreement further calls for the firm to pay a lump sum fine to ICE within 30 days from the time the government invoices the company. On paying the fine, Broetje Orchards will be fully released from any further civil or criminal liability associated with conduct alleged by HSI to date.
“ICE weighs various factors when considering the appropriate penalty, including the interests of the community and local economy," said Raphael Sanchez, ICE’s chief counsel in Seattle. “We believe this is a reasonable conclusion that holds this business accountable, but does not cripple its ability to provide jobs to lawful workers."
Attorneys with ICE’s Office of Principal Legal Advisor in Seattle negotiated the settlement on behalf of the government.
Employers are required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act to maintain for inspection original Form I-9s for all current employees. In the case of former employees, retention of forms is required for a period of at least three years from the date of hire or for one-year after the employee is no longer employed, whichever is longer. HSI conducts these audits in an effort to protect employment opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce and to target businesses that knowingly employ unauthorized workers.
E-Verify is an Internet-based system used by more than 500,000 employers that compares information from an employee's Form I-9 to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.