Federal Employment Verification Requirements: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Recently, more than 1,200 janitors were fired in Minnesota when they were unable to provide ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) with proof of their legal status in the United States. In fact, according to John Keller, executive director of the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, the vast majority of the 1,250 fired workers turned out to be "undocumented."

Of course, the illegal alien's employer, ABM Industries, Inc., a Fortune 1000 company that provides janitorial services nationwide, was shocked to find that there were over 1,200 illegal aliens on its staff in Minnesota. After all, ABM Industries complies fully with the law, according to its spokesman, Tony Mitchell, Vice President of Corporate Communications.

So, how did ABM Industries end up with huge numbers of illegal aliens on its payroll? Well, probably by fully complying with the letter of a law that is the employer's equivalent of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy.

The ABM human resources staff would have had all newly hired illegal aliens complete and sign I-9 forms as required by law. As part of the I-9 process, illegal aliens would have presented the documents necessary to verify their legal status because even though they are in the country illegally, they are definitely not undocumented. However, since illegal aliens cannot get legal documents, the documents presented to ABM would have been as phony as a three dollar bill.

The illegal aliens would then have falsified their I-9 forms by entering the fraudulent information from their fake documents in spite of the explicit warning on the form that states "I am aware that federal law provides for imprisonment and/or fines for false statements or use of false documents in connection with the completion of this form."

Finally, the illegal aliens would have perjured themselves on their I-9 forms by falsely attesting "under penalty of perjury" to the fact that they were either a citizen or national of the United States, a lawful permanent resident, Alien # _________, or an alien authorized to work until __/__/__.

So, even before they had emptied their first trash can or mopped their first floor, ABM's new janitorial employees had committed two and possibly three felonies in order to get their jobs -- document fraud, perjury on an I-9 form ,and identity theft if the Social Security number or other identifying data belonged to another person.

By applying the don't ask, don't tell procedure rather than taking the extra step necessary to verify the information presented by its new hires, ABM Industries ended up employing hundreds of illegal aliens who were committing multiple felonies. ABM's clients, who trusted ABM to do the right thing, ended up with criminal, illegal aliens on their premises.

This whole episode cannot be good for ABM's corporate image especially since its website emphasizes its "reputation for integrity," its "stringent hiring and selection process," and its practice of conducting "business in a way that instills a sense of confidence in our customers."

"You may find a cheaper, short-term solution from one of our competitors, but in the long run, 'cheap' and 'short-term' can cost more money than doing it the RIGHT way," the ABM website tells its clients. "We don't believe in shortcuts when it comes to safety, proper procedure, compliance and environmental concerns."

William Riley, Former ICE Assistant
Special Agent in Charge, Explains IMAGE:
View the Full Interview

Unfortunately, ABM's stringent hiring and selection process was based on a don't ask, don't tell protocol. Had ABM Industries' HR department gone one step further and run all of its new hires through the federal government's free E-Verify program, ABM would have caught new hires who were using fraudulent documents and/or stolen Social Security numbers and if ABM had enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security's IMAGE program, it would have caught the previously hired illegal aliens.

Based on the results of the enforcement action in Minnesota, one has to wonder just how many more of ABM's 101,000 employees who are working at sites that DHS did not investigate are also illegally in the United States.

One thing that the ICE enforcement action makes crystal clear is that that the federal government's don't ask, don't tell employment verification requirements are not working and that any company that fully complies with existing federal law may well be employing illegal aliens.

In fact, there are thousands of companies in the United States who put their reputations, their integrity and the safety and security of American citizens in jeopardy by fully complying with current federal law. Companies that follow a don't ask, don't tell policy when illegal alien document fraud and identity theft are at epidemic proportions show a blatant disregard for both their customers and for the victims of illegal alien job related felonies.

Making matters even worse in the ABM Industries case is the fact that janitors have access to virtually all areas of a building, often when no one else is around. Illegal aliens who work as janitors in pediatrician offices, hospitals, public schools, state Medicaid and CHIP offices, etc. may well have access to unsecured records making it easy for them to gather Social Security numbers that belong to American children. These numbers are especially valuable because they can be used by illegal aliens for many years to get jobs, loans, credit cards, and a wide range of other benefits that they are not entitled to before anyone ever checks the child's credit history.

So, rather than being good corporate citizens, the companies that employ a don't ask, don't tell policy actually facilitate the criminal activities of illegal aliens who are involved in job related document fraud and identity theft. These same companies also contribute directly to the serious harm done to the American men, women and children who are victims of these crimes.

Hopefully, employers will acknowledge the harm that they are doing to millions of Americans by hiring illegal aliens committing multiple felonies.

Hopefully, employers will put their responsibility to the community ahead of "cheap" and "short-term" hiring solutions such as don't ask, don't tell by voluntarily enrolling in the E-Verify and IMAGE systems.

But most of all, hopefully the federal government will abolish its don't ask, don't tell employment verification system and require all employers to enroll in both the E-Verify and IMAGE programs.