A Washington apple orchard will pay millions in civil penalties under a settlement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement following alleged violations of the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
Broetje Orchards, LLC, based in Prescott, employed hundreds of people not eligible to work in the U.S., according to ICE, though the Eastern Washington company admits no criminal wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement. In total Broetje Orchards will pay $2.25 million in civil penalties. The orchard is required to cover a lump sum fine within 30 days of the government invoicing the company. Once the penalty is paid off, the orchard will be freed of any further criminal liabilities. The multi-million dollar fine is the largest ever issued by ICE in Washington state.
The multi-million penalty levied against the orchard was the largest ICE fine in Washington state history.
ICE audited the company's employment records last summer and came across a dearth of issues. Over the years close to 950 of the people employed at the orchard were suspected of not being authorized to work in the U.S. Though the latest audit of the company was last summer, The Wall Street Journal reported that the government and the orchard have been at odds for years prior to the settlement.
A long struggle to avoid government action
A 2012 ICE audit revealed around 1,700 employees suspected to be working in the U.S. illegally, the news source noted. For years following the audit, Broetje was able to hold off a raid through negotiations and lobbying. Julie Myers Wood, who headed ICE during the George W. Bush administration, explained to The Wall Street Journal that companies want to keep their employees as long as possible in case new legislation allows them to retain staff that had been unauthorized to work in the U.S. prior to the changes.
"Broejtie couldn't hold out any longer and settled with the government."
For example, President Barack Obama recently issued an executive action that would allow millions of people in the country illegally to defer deportation and apply for work authorization. A number of Broetje employees with children born in the U.S., who pay taxes and have no criminal records, would likely have qualified for employment eligibility under Obama's order. However, the action was temporarily blocked by a federal court in February. Eventually, Broejte was forced to settle with the government after last summer's ICE audit revealed hundreds of alleged violations.
Avoiding hiring unauthorized employees
In a statement, the orchard noted that the U.S. immigration needs reform, and its recent settlement simply highlights that. However, employers can take steps to ensure they are hiring compliantly, even without a massive immigration overhaul. E-Verify, for example, is a hiring solution offered by the federal government that helps employers with verification. Recently introduced features allow companies to check whether candidates are using fake Social Security numbers by comparing them with others in various government databases.