August 11, 2022

You’re the Boss: What If You Suspect an Employee is Undocumented?

David Cox believes that the workers he had to fire because they were undocumented are now employed by his competitors.Max Whittaker for The New York TimesDavid Cox believes that workers he had to fire because they were undocumented are now employed by his competitors.

Today’s Question

What small-business owners think.

We’ve just published an article by Adriana Gardella that describes the impact of stepped-up enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, on American small businesses. It cites the example of David Cox, who runs a family-owned nursery in Visalia, Calif., that was one of 1,444 businesses audited by ICE in 2009. Last year, 2,196 businesses were audited.

Even though Mr. Cox has always played by the rules in his hiring practices — and faces no fines or charges — an ICE audit revealed that 26 of his 99 employees were not authorized to work in the United States, and he was forced to fire them. While he has struggled to find replacement workers, Mr. Cox says he has heard that his former employees have found work in the area, some presumably with his competitors.

It is a dilemma that more and more business owners are likely to face. As Leon Versfeld, an immigration attorney in Kansas City, Mo., told Ms. Gardella, it’s not just about agriculture businesses that were getting audited that had exposure. “Any company is at risk at any given time,” Mr. Versfeld said.

So here’s the question:

You have always followed the rules when hiring, but you have come to suspect that an important employee is here illegally. This employee has been with you for more than 10 years, pays taxes, has American-born children, and has been playing an increasingly important role at your company. You’ve never voiced your concerns, because you really don’t want to know. But you’ve heard things from other employees, and now you’re worried about what might happen.

What do you do?

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