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Task Force Targets Immigration

New Haven Register

May 4, 2007

How well do you know your employees?

With a growing number of business owners coming under fire — some even facing jail time — for hiring undocumented workers, understanding immigration laws has become imperative for companies of all sizes, said Ross Garber, a partner at the law firm Shipman & Goodwin, which has offices in Hartford, Stamford and Greenwich.
 
"For most (business owners), it’s not on the radar screen," he said. "It’s not something a business can ignore. Businesses have to pay attention to it."

Shipman & Goodwin recently formed a task force designed to help businesses comply with regulations set by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.
 
While there are other law firms that deal in immigration law, Shipman & Goodwin’s task force is unique in that it includes lawyers from several specialties — immigration, labor and employment, and white collar crimes — to more comprehensively address immigration issues, said Garber, co-founder of the task force.

Garber estimated that 5 percent of the United States work force is comprised of undocumented, or illegal, immigrants. In certain industries, such as construction, food service and agriculture, that percentage typically is much higher, he said.

"Businesses are wrestling with how to get the work force they need," he said.

But the federal government is increasingly vigilant in prosecuting those who break the law. In the past five years, penalties for hiring undocumented workers have become increasingly harsh, ranging from hefty fines to prison terms, Garber said.

"Our government is making an effort to wake employers up," he said.

In New Haven on Monday, Jose Calhela of Guilford was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for hiring undocumented workers at the 10 area Dunkin’ Donuts stores he owned. His daughter, Diana, who managed the stores, received 250 hours of community service and probation.

The issue of hiring illegal workers "spans many industries," Garber said, but there are steps business owners can take to avoid problems.

All businesses, regardless of their size, should be familiar with immigration laws, and know what documents and identification they need to obtain and verify from workers. Business owners also should know the penalties for breaking the law, he said.

It also is important for employers to recognize signs that indicate a potential problem involving illegal workers.

"Normally, there are warning signs," Garber said, noting that complaints from other workers can be a red flag. "Don’t wait to think about that until you’re under investigation or indicted."
 
Reported by Cara Baruzzi, Register Staff. Originally published in the New Haven Register on May 4, 2007, and reprinted with permission. Copyright 2007.

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