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Law and Borders: Area Firm Forms Task Force on Immigration Issues

The Advocate/Greenwich Time

April 12, 2007

It's happened at mega-retailer Wal-Mart, meatpacker Swift & Co. and Michael Bianco Inc., which stitched together Coach handbags and Rockport shoes.

And a sudden raid by federal immigration agents is a concern for clients of Ross Garber and his associates at Shipman & Goodwin LLP, a law firm with offices in Stamford and Greenwich.

Shipman & Goodwin developed a task force to prevent a client from running afoul of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit. The group melds the immigration, labor and criminal specialties of the 150-member law firm to provide corporate clients with coordinated advice in the event of an immigration investigation.

Since ICE was created in 2003, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in immigration-related arrests of company officials, from 25 in 2002 to 716 last year, said Garber, who heads the task force. He is a white-collar crime specialist and divides his time between the law firm's Fairfield County and Hartford offices.

"We formed a multidisciplinary task force where we work together," Garber said. "If you're charged, these laws are incredibly complex, and you'll want a lawyer with experience in immigration."

"I've worked on cases involving large, national companies down to families who employ domestic workers," he said. "ICE in Connecticut has been very aggressive. It has some of the best, most sophisticated agents I've seen. ICE gets so many calls from disgruntled employees at companies or former employees."

Now, instead of paying a fine for an immigration labor transgression, executives can expect to do jail time after being convicted of a felony.

Last year, business owners faced more than 700 criminal charges - four times that of any prior year - for violations of immigration and employment laws.

Contracting and franchised businesses that depend heavily on day laborers have been the main targets of ICE agents, Garber said.

But while the food-service, construction and agriculture industries are often targeted, enforcement does not stop there.

"The risk of prosecution extends to Fortune 500 companies, U.S.-based foreign companies and other major employers that outsource or subcontract labor-intensive work," he said. "Almost uniformly they (corporate clients) are surprised by the law and what's required of them. It's a felony to transport undocumented workers. The government says it could mean driving people to work."

One of the best-known cases in 2005 involved Wal-Mart and its subcontractors, which were assessed $11 million in fines for hiring undocumented workers.

The Business Council of Fairfield County, which has several Fortune 500 firms among its members, worked with area law firms to learn the issues.

"Companies want to do the right thing when it comes to immigration," said Lisa Mercurio, director of the Fairfield County Information Exchange, a unit of the business council.

Many business council members have facilities across the country, and for them immigration issues vary.

"Companies need to know what the laws are in their respective locations," she said, noting that immigration laws, as well as their enforcement, are changing.

A crucial component in a company's strategy must be diligence in keeping an updated record of I-9 employment eligibility forms completed by new employees, Garber said.

"From that moment forward, we want to make sure that the employer is in compliance," he said.

Employers must verify employment eligibility and identity documents submitted by employees and list the information on the I-9 forms, which have to be retained for three years after an employee is hired or for one year after employment is terminated.

Written by Richard Lee, Assistant Business Editor for The Advocate/Greenwich Time. © 2007 Southern CT Newspapers, Inc.

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