Raided bars may face scrutiny over illegal aliens
The two restaurants involved in the Dec. 2 drug and immigration busts could be fined for allegedly employing workers who were in the country illegally.Both Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House were employing at least one illegal immigrant, according to an Aspen Police Department news release.The unprecedented raid included at least 50 officers storming and shutting down the landmark watering holes during après ski and arresting 21 people; 11 were detained for immigration violations.The aftermath of the arrests shows the difficulties of running a business that requires at least some cheap labor such as dishwashers and busboys, jobs immigrants from all over the world often fill.In the arcane world of immigration law, whether Little Annie’s and Cooper Street will be fined comes down to “good faith and common sense.” That is, whether the managers who did the hiring believed the paperwork the prospective employee put forth was legitimate.Charles Wolf, manager of Cooper Street, said workers at his restaurant must provide valid I-9 forms and other requisite employment documents before they are hired. Management of Little Annie’s was not available for comment Tuesday.Asked how he verifies that paperwork is valid, Wolf said he looks at it. If people are able to forge documents to make them look realistic, he said he has no way of proving that they are false.If people are using forged employment forms, “it’s the system’s problem,” he said. In fact, were Wolf to press a prospective worker about the validity of paperwork, he could potentially get in trouble for discrimination.”Employers must avoid discriminating against the employee because of citizenship status or national origin through ‘document abuse,’ [or] asking the employee for more documents than necessary,” according to a posting about immigration law on http://www.lawyers.com. The website provides legal research and access to attorneys.Among the reasons an employer should probe an applicant further are if the documents are obvious forgeries or if the information doesn’t match the employee, the Web posting says.In other words, employers are in a difficult position. Immigration officials have not spoken to him since the raids, Wolf said, nor does he expect them to. Carl Rusnok, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said the illegal immigrants detained Dec. 2 obtained their employment using fraudulent paperwork.Federal law includes provisions mandating “good faith and common sense,” said a Front Range attorney specializing in the immigration arena. That means employers can be fined for knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant or unknowingly hiring one if a reasonable person would believe the applicant was in the country illegally, he said. The lawyer did not want to be named, citing a potential involvement in the Dec. 2 cases.Employers are supposed to be “nationality blind on the paperwork,” he added.”This is train-wreck legislation,” the lawyer said. It aimed to “turn off the magnet and zap the employer. That’s where the money is. And so [Congress] came up with fines.”The legislation had no teeth, he said. Enforcement of immigration violations was underfunded, and the government actually “hates these things,” he said of immigration roundups.However, Michael Chertoff, head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has expressed new interest about fining employers over immigration violations, the lawyer said.”So here they come again,” he said.Rusnok said it is too early to know whether the restaurants will come under further scrutiny.”These types of investigations take weeks, if not months,” he said.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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