Washington Tree Fruit Grower Hit With $2.25 Million Fine After ICE Audit

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reached a multimillion dollar settlement Tuesday with Broetje Orchards, LLC, for its civil violations of the Immigration Reform and Control Act related to verifying U.S. employment eligibility.

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The Prescott, WA, company will pay $2.25 million in civil penalties. This will remedy Employment Eligibility Verification form (Form I-9) issues uncovered during an administrative audit by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The latest audit, conducted last summer, revealed that nearly 950 of the company’s employees were suspected of not being authorized to work in the U.S.

“All businesses are expected to comply with the law and to ensure the information provided on a Form I-9 is accurate,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña.

Under the settlement agreement, Broetje Orchards does not admit to any criminal wrongdoing, but does acknowledge HSI auditors found that it continued to employ unauthorized workers after being advised by ICE those employees did not have permission to work in the U.S.

In response to the settlement agreement, the company issued a statement noting that the audit involved the records of people working at the company over a period of several years. The company also noted that there was no admission of wrongdoing and no allegations or findings of criminal conduct.

“We are pleased to put this process behind us and to get back to the business of growing fruit,” said Broetje Orchards’ Management Team in the written statement. “This case nevertheless highlights what is clearly a dysfunctional and broken immigration system. We urge our industry, and our state’s congressional delegation, to take the lead to support and pass immigration reform legislation. The agricultural labor shortage needs to be fixed, and now.”

The company’s patriarch, Ralph Broetje, is a former Apple Grower of the Year.

According to the ICE news release, the agreement further calls for the firm to pay a lump sum fine to ICE within 30 days from the time the government invoices the company. On paying the fine, Broetje Orchards will be fully released from any further civil or criminal liability associated with conduct alleged by HSI to date.

“ICE weighs various factors when considering the appropriate penalty, including the interests of the community and local economy,” said Raphael Sanchez, ICE’s chief counsel in Seattle. “We believe this is a reasonable conclusion that holds this business accountable, but does not cripple its ability to provide jobs to lawful workers.”

Attorneys with ICE’s Office of Principal Legal Advisor in Seattle negotiated the settlement on behalf of the government.

The agreement does not preclude future audits or criminal enforcement.

Employers are required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act  to maintain for inspection original Form I-9s for all current employees. In the case of former employees, retention of forms is required for a period of at least three years from the date of hire or for one year after the employee is no longer employed, whichever is longer. HSI conducts these audits in an effort to protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce and to target businesses that knowingly employ unauthorized workers.

ICE is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

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Avatar for Spivey Spivey says:

I wonder what the fine money is used for???

Avatar for Jay H. Jay H. says:

It’s used for Obama’s golf-course fees, what else?

Avatar for Diablos Advocate Diablos Advocate says:

Spoken like one of the alt-right troopers. How do you feel about ICE raids now that your boy is leading the charge??

Avatar for Paul Paul says:

So we don’t enforce the laws preventing people from coming here, but only the ones preventing them from working ?

Avatar for whitappleDan whitappleDan says:

We only enforce the laws against the citizens, not the illegals. After all we want those illegals to become good little democrat voters.

Avatar for Diablos Advocate Diablos Advocate says:

If they weren’t being HIRED do you think they’d come here? Or stay? And BTW my comment is directed toward the illegals.

Avatar for Bryan Bryan says:

It’s ridiculous… Huge numbers of unemployed “citizens” in this country that are on the dole of various welfare programs, not paying a cent into the system … Who refuse to work the hard jobs…during a time of lack of laborers. And the people who are here to work from other countries, who actually pay into the system , and produce something other than national debt are being ran out… It’s mind boggling. But not at all surprising

Avatar for Diablos Advocate Diablos Advocate says:

and traditionally the lowest man on the totem pole (e.g. those of lowest socio-economic class and/or the newest immigrant group) is the one that takes manual labor type jobs. No surprise, they want better for their kids, so next generation doesn’t take these jobs. Those you’re defending so vigorously have somehow obtained not just identities of others but their documents as well. So you’re ok with identify theft? BTW even Cesar Chavez warned UFW members to keep illegals out of fields – ‘they’ll take your jobs.’

Avatar for Montana Farmer Montana Farmer says:

If it wasn’t for illegal workers most of our food would come from foreign countries. How great would that be if China could cut off our food supply any time they get upset with us?

Avatar for BILL BERRYHILL BILL BERRYHILL says:

last time i looked China was killing our dogs with tainted dog food do we really want our food to come from them !

Avatar for Jeff Sandness Jeff Sandness says:

It is amazing that the government finds it morally correct to educate illegal children but it’s a big time crime to provide employment to their parents so that they can feed them, oh wait, I suppose the gov will do a better job of that as well. Laws are so bad!

Avatar for Vicky Rey Vicky Rey says:

Instead of moving forward with immigration reform, and allowing these people to work; the government slams the farmer with fines for using the workers. As less and less workers are available for harvesting, farming on any level will become more difficult. People want cheap food, well they will get what they ask for; as more food is imported. The farm workers are very hard workers; i farm and I couldn’t do what they do for a living.

Avatar for Diablos Advocate Diablos Advocate says:

I believe I-9 came into being as a result of immigration reform enacted under St. Ronnie, in 1986. Seems pretty clear to me that employers have simply thumbed their noses at the law/s since. BTW illegals don’t ‘just’ take jobs in fields. I just read comment from USDA that “ag labor accounts for only 1.6 cents of each dollar” . Even Cesar Chavez warned UFW workers against letting illegals into the fields. [I was skeptical when I heard that but did find confirmation.] BTW, we are FLOODED with ‘food’ from other countries. One cause is that the descendants of farming families don’t want to farm (or ranch). An acquaintance of mine was lamenting loss of farms and became irate with me when I pointed out that many (of these descendants) have become ‘real estate developers’, some have just sold their (farm) land to developers. We can’t MAKE people continue as farmers. As far as this article, I’m curious how many employees Broetje Orchards has, say at peak harvest time. 950 ILLEGALS employed – I’m sorry I just can’t fathom that they didn’t know they were hiring illegals. Reading many comments on this issue, many either don’t seem to differentiate, or don’t know, the different between illegals and those who have legal status to work here.

Avatar for Diablos Advocate Diablos Advocate says:

Vicky, I believe our last immigration reform was under St. Ronnie in 1986, and that’s when I-9 was created. Pres. Obama tried, more than once, to get immigration reform enacted, but members of Congress of BOTH PARTIES, blocked him. Interesting you seem to assume that immigration reform would simply (and again) somehow ‘legalize’ all the illegals. IMO St. Ronnie’s first ‘amnesty’ has played huge role in creating the mess we have now: the message that sent was don’t concern yourself with U.S. immigration laws, ignore them, nothing will happen. So now we have (at least) 11 MILLION illegals here. They don’t all work in ag. They DO take jobs from those who are citizens and those who have legal status to work. In some cases, they likely don’t collect, or remit, payroll taxes. Those illegals who provided ‘documents’ stole them (or paid someone who stole them) from someone. I went to school with (white) kids whose (white) parents worked in the fields. They referred to themselves as ‘fruit tramps.’ Some of their kids followed in their footsteps and also worked in the fields. These people also followed the produce, traveling between states to follow the harvests. Where this gets more interesting is one of these friends – her parents went thru divorce. Mom couldn’t make it without going back to work. So, she decided to do the only thing she knew how to do: work in the fields. That didn’t last, not because she wouldn’t do the work but because the workers threatened her (as in threatened to stab her). So, would I want to work in fields? No. But, ‘manual labor’ jobs ARE hard, and not confined to ag labor. It’s encouraging that we have empathy for others …but, candidly, I don’t remember any ’empathy’ when it was predominantly the ‘fruit tramps’… We have immigration laws, and before you criticize them, and criticize for them being enforced (and yes, legal workers ARE displaced) look up immigration laws of other countries and how they enforce them. Just food for thought.