Danny’s Car Wash Immigration Raids

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Sixteen Danny’s Car Washes were raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents over the weekend. That occurred after a two-year investigation which alleges the company hired back many of the 900 employees they fired two years ago following a federal audit that revealed those workers were in the country illegally. The 78-count indictment alleges document fraud and i.d. theft, and targeted managers of the company. That is different than previous raids conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which targeted workers. Here to talk about the raids is immigration attorney Liz Chatham, who is also the Arizona Chapter Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Ted Simons: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents rated 16 Danny's Car Wash locations over the weekend. The company is accused of rehiring hundreds of known undocumented workers. 78 count indictments targeted managers of the company with documented fraud and I.D. theft. Here to talk about the raid is immigration attorney Elizabeth Chatham who chairs the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Good to see you, thanks for being here.

Elizabeth Chatham: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: So what exactly does the indictment allege? What went on here?

Elizabeth Chatham: This particular indictment was done by ICE, the enforcement arm of Department of Homeland Security. They went to the different car washes because they believed that there were unauthorized workers that were hired by the employer, and that the employer assisted or they were involved in creating false documentation in order to hire them. Part of why this is so serious is because these workers were originally identified as not having proper work authorization, and the employer made a decision to let them go. And now subsequently they were rehired. There were allegations that these workers didn't cure the defect and get proper documentation. There were fraudulent documentation that was created.

Ted Simons: Workers were rehired under different names and different I.D.s, these were workers the Feds were already aware of because they went to Danny's a couple of years ago and said, this isn't working, get rid of these folks. And allegedly Danny's just rehired them.

Elizabeth Chatham: Right, that is what's being presented in the indictment documentation. It's a pretty serious violation that they are involving not just immigration violations, but employment and labor laws, tax evasion, and conspiracy, which are criminal allegations. There's a whole host of a variety of federal charges, and they were primarily focusing on managers and management of the employers. And that's why this is so serious because they were knowingly hiring and engaging in these violations.

Ted Simons: So supervisors and managers targeted here, were there any charges against workers that you're aware of?

Elizabeth Chatham: The focus of the investigation was not the workers. There were over 200 employees interviewed by ICE. They were determined to either have proper work authorization or not to have proper work authorization. And then 179 were taken in for processing and ultimately they were let go. No charges were filed against them. There were 30 that had prior criminal or prior immigration violations, and those folks were being processed, either they were being held in detention or they were ordered removed.

Ted Simons: Were they aware of the managers' and supervisors' alleged actions? And does that even matter?

Elizabeth Chatham: It seems to me as someone who does help employers through an I-9 Audit, that if the employer chose to terminate employment, there probably was some sort of communication about why it is that these employees are being let go. They have may have approached the worker and asked, can you prove to us that you are who you say you are. Either that person may not have come back the next day, or they may have told the employer, I don't have the documents that you are requesting. There probably was an exchange of information. I would say the workers more than likely were aware.

Ted Simons: What about the owner of the car wash? Any charges against him?

Elizabeth Chatham: Not that I have seen. This is still an ongoing investigation. They still have to see who the players were. It really identifies and focuses on managers. If the employer knew and participated and did nothing to prevent it, there could be further charges.

Ted Simons: How unusual was this action? And does this signal some kind of a shift in ICE strategy?

Elizabeth Chatham: I think it's unusual. I haven't seen this large scale of an ICE raid in Arizona in recent history. Normally you hear about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's worksite raids, where he seems to target the employees for identity theft and they might be arrested and they may have an immigration impact whether or not they are convicted of an ICE charge. Here, the difference is that they are focusing on the employer. The analogy would be, are you mowing the lawn or pulling the weeds? ICE is trying to pull the weeds and really clean up what they think is a problem. The problem being employers knowingly hiring an unauthorized workforce.

Ted Simons: So with that thought, do you think ICE is sending a message here?

Elizabeth Chatham: I do. I don't think this is the last type of worksite enforcement that we're going to see, I think there's going to be several more. I think they are going to try to focus on employers that may have a high turnover rate of multiple employees, low wage rate workers. They are trying to focus on larger employers because they want to set a precedent. They may want to say, we're not going to tolerate this. I think it's reflective of the Obama administration, and what the administration is set a priority. Immigration enforcement is a priority to this administration.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, let's call it comprehensive immigration reform, not necessarily the senate plan not the peace bill approach that the house is looking at, but comprehensive immigration reform, how would that have impacted or affected this particular operation?

Elizabeth Chatham: If we had a path for folks that are here and they want to fix their papers, we need to create a line that they can stand in. Right now there is no line, they can't get a work permit, they can't a green card, they can't get citizenship. They have no mechanism to try to get that right now. There is an attitude that just because you're undocumented that you are a criminal, that you don't deserve to be here. And people raise their families, they have jobs and contribute to paying taxes and file a tax return. They want to be a part of our society and we need to make a choice and a decision as to if this population of immigrants are going to have a way to do that. Comprehensive Immigration Reform or Piecemeal Immigration Reform, if there is a mechanism to give a work permits, or a visa, and let people come out of the shadows and self-identify and say, there wasn't a way for me to do this in the past and now you're giving me a chance to do it, I think a majority of folks would want to get their papers straightened out.

Ted Simons: I think the head of the house judiciary would be part of what the house was going to do, but they said this week that a path to citizenship is not going to happen. It's not part of what the House wants to see. How important is that one aspect of immigration reform?

Elizabeth Chatham: It's critical. It's part of the design of comprehensive immigration reform. If you are trying to say we are going to change immigration laws for prospective immigrants and ignore people that are already here, it's not comprehensive. You can't ignore people that are already here. They are already contributing and, you know, when you look at our deportation system, our detention facilities, the amount, money that's being put into border committees and deportation. It is the majority of the budget of Homeland Security. You're going to maintain that and continue having that be a large expense for our country. If we were able to have reform I think that would eliminate that backlog and that congestion.

Ted Simons: All right, we've gotta stop you right there. Thank you so much for joining us.

Elizabeth Chatham: It was a pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Liz Chatham:Immigration Attorney and Arizona Chapter Chair, American Immigration Lawyers Association;

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