ICE Responds To Reports Of Lax Enforcement

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, about a report in the Houston Chronicle that his agency hasn't been fining companies for employing undocumented workers.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And joining us now is John Morton, who is the director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.

And I know that you have broader comments to make about the Houston Chronicle story. But first, on that last point, when an audit is done and an employer is told - you have to fire the people who aren't working legally, does ICE confirm that indeed, they've been fired? Does it know that people have been dismissed?

Mr. JOHN MORTON (Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement): Well, the important point to make is that we don't actually inform the companies that they have to fire people. Our job is to make sure that the employees they have, have work authorization. And we insist on verifying that the paperwork is proper, and that everyone that they have working for them do have work authorization.

In many, many instances, that does mean that the company fires the individuals because they can't produce proper work authorization.

SIEGEL: And why wouldn't an employer, the majority of whose employees turn out to have very questionable papers, why wouldn't there be a fine levied against that person?

Mr. MORTON: Well, it all depends on whether or not they were acting in good faith or bad faith. There are many instances in which an employer can be duped or make an honest mistake, and a fine or criminal prosecution isn't the right answer. But rather, making sure that their employees have work authorization is the right answer.

And so in some instances, we issue a notice of warning. In other instances, we fine people. And in other instances, we prosecute people. And it's important to note, we have brought more fines and more criminal prosecutions against employers than any administration in the history of the government.

SIEGEL: But it sounds, though, you know, to say if someone is being duped - I mean, if I'm fooled once, shame on me. If I'm fooled 93 percent of the time by my workers, you know, something fishy is going on in that case. Wouldn't a fine naturally seem in order?

Mr. MORTON: We've got to follow the law. And the law requires that to bring a criminal prosecution, the government has to demonstrate that people knowingly cooked the books. And so we're going to follow the law and where we can make a criminal case, where we have evidence of knowing misconduct, we'll bring a criminal case.

But we're going to follow the law, and where we can't demonstrate bad faith, and where we can't demonstrate a criminal violation, we will insist on proper work authorization for every single person.

SIEGEL: Just to be clear, there's a legal definition of how you determine bad faith. Would you suspect that the real-life incidents of bad faith - is a lot higher than what passes the legal standard for proving bad faith on an employer?

Mr. MORTON: Well, what I would say is this: The law does not require the employer to investigate the document that is presented to him or her as proof of what work authorization. In fact, the law prohibits employers from second-guessing the documents, or asking for documents outside of what the statute requires. Therefore, our ability to bring punitive sanctions for technical violations is quite limited.

SIEGEL: Mr. Morton, thanks for talking with us today.

Mr. MORTON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That is John Morton, who is director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He spoke to us from his office in Washington.

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