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.
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.