Pilgrim's Pride to Pay $4.5 Million as Result of Immigration Investigation
A recent agreement between Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and the federal
government highlights why employers must focus on their immigration compliance
efforts or face dire consequences.
On Dec. 30, 2009, the federal government reached a non-prosecution agreement
with Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, one of the country's largest chicken
producers, to resolve an investigation involving the hiring and employment of
unauthorized workers. Under the terms of the agreement, Pilgrim's Pride agreed
to pay $4.5 million and adopt more stringent immigration compliance practices.
As part of the government's investigation, 25 unauthorized workers were arrested
in December 2007 at plants in Texas, and approximately 338 more were arrested at
plants in Texas, Florida, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee in early 2008.
See ICE press release, "Justice Department and ICE reach $4.5 million agreement
with Pilgrim's Pride," Dec. 30, 2009.
The Pilgrim's Pride investigation is not unique. Over the last few years, a
number of companies throughout the country have struggled with the impact of
worksite enforcement actions and government investigations related to their
compliance with immigration laws.
In addition to the possible criminal penalties including jail time,
forfeiture, debarment, and fines (companies penalized as a result of an I-9
inspection can pay $375 - $16,000 for each unauthorized worker), there are
numerous significant non-legal consequences of an immigration investigation
including adverse publicity and the possible loss of a significant portion of a
company's workforce in a short period of time.
Although the high-profile immigration raids of the Bush administration have
been, for the most part, replaced with I-9 investigations by the Obama
administration, make no mistake that the I-9 investigation serves the same
purpose - garnering evidence regarding problems with the work authorization of
Companies need to be wary of viewing a Notice of Inspection (NOI) as a mere
administrative request. What begins as an NOI often results in a criminal
investigation. Even under the new administration and with less high-profile
immigration raids, immigration cases still make up the majority of all federal
criminal prosecutions. For the last two years, more than 50% of all federal
criminal prosecutions were immigration cases. See John Schwartz, "Immigration
Enforcement Fuels Rise in U.S. Cases," The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2009.
Employers must take a close look at their immigration compliance program to
ensure that it is up-to-date and would withstand government scrutiny. In
addition, companies receiving an NOI, or any inquiries from the Departments of
Homeland Security, Justice, or Labor regarding their immigration-related
policies, need to be aware of the potential consequences, and consult counsel
with experience in: (1) our nation's immigration laws; and (2) responding to and
defending companies faced with government investigations.
McGuireWoods offers a unique approach to immigration matters - we draw upon a
team of lawyers in various practice areas who collectively have the skills and
knowledge needed to address the relevant criminal, immigration, labor and
employment law issues. McGuireWoods'
Team has experience advising companies with regard to immigration compliance
and defending companies faced with immigration-related government