Work law breach at issue

Columbia Association employed foreigners illegally, document says

Federal forms not used

Longtime practice put agency at risk of fines, McCarty says

April 11, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association has been operating for more than a decade in violation of a federal law designed to crack down on employing illegal aliens, an internal document shows, exposing the association to "substantial financial risk."

In addition, the Columbia Association has employed illegal workers in two of its divisions "with supervisory knowledge," the document says.

The Columbia Association, which functions as the community's government, has not required its employees to fill out a federally required "employment verification form," known as an I-9, until recently, according to an internal document prepared by association President Deborah O. McCarty.

"CA had never used this form, which is a federal requirement," the document says. The document, a copy of which was reviewed by The Sun, calls the violation a "substantial financial risk" and says the association's human resources manager is in the process of securing I-9 forms from employees.

The law applies to employees hired after Nov. 6, 1986. Civil fines range from $100 to $1,000 for each employee for whom a company has no I-9.

Hypothetically, if all 1,200 of CA's employees were hired after the regulation went into effect, the potential fine would be between $120,000 and $1.2 million.

"Failing to keep substantial records can get an employer into a lot of trouble," said Jonathan Greene, a Towson lawyer specializing in immigration and family law, who was surprised that CA had had no forms on file for nearly 15 years. "I think most employers take diligent steps to comply with the I-9 process.

"It's not unheard of that some employers may have failed to comply with the process altogether," Greene said, "but those employers do so at their absolute peril."

Between 1989 and 1997, 221 employers in Maryland were cited for violations ranging from document fraud to knowingly employing illegal aliens, according to the Center for Immigration Studies' Employer Sanctions Database. That does not include employers cited only for paperwork violations.

Two divisions involved

The document prepared by McCarty says the homeowners association -- whose $50 million budget provides many services and facilities for the city's 87,000 residents -- employed illegal workers in two divisions "with supervisory knowledge."

"Corrective action has occurred for all employees on these matters," the document says.

Fines for knowingly employing unauthorized aliens range from $250 to $2,000 for each unauthorized alien for the first offense. A second offense carries a penalty of $2,000 to $5,000 for each unauthorized alien.

Columbia Horse Center

McCarty said yesterday that two illegal workers were discovered at Columbia Horse Center in the course of investigating what she called a "fraudulent" worker's compensation claim.

"We discovered a couple of people several months ago who were not legal workers, and they've been terminated and they've been dealt with," she said.

One of the illegal workers -- whose identities could not be verified yesterday -- had filed a fraudulent worker's compensation claim, McCarty said. The second worker was discovered during the investigation of the first.

It is unclear what other division of the Columbia Association might have employed illegal workers.

McCarty said she is not "personally aware" of other undocumented workers.

Verifying eligibility

The I-9 form, which is required under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, is used to verify employment eligibility.

To complete the form, employers must be presented with one or more original documents from an employee, such as a U.S. passport, Social Security card, certificate of U.S. citizenship or unexpired employment authorization card.

The form is to be kept for three years after the date a person begins work, or one year after a person's employment ends, whichever is later. It must be made available for inspection to the INS, Department of Labor or the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices.

Deemed personnel issue

McCarty declined to answer questions about the I-9 forms.

Carlos Holgado, CA's human resources manager, said yesterday: "This I-9 issue is a human resource issue and is a confidential issue, and I cannot discuss that with you. I cannot even talk to you about what is it that we're doing."

Until last year, CA did not have a human resources manager.

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