There Is Only One Administrative Judge in Employer Sanctions Enforcement

By David North on May 5, 2014

Here's a different way of judging the energy the United States uses in enforcing employer sanctions: Ellen K. Thomas.

Judge Thomas, a civil servant, is neither the hero nor the villain of this piece. But she is a living measure of the level of seriousness of immigration enforcement in the labor market. ("Employer sanctions" is shorthand for the law that private employers cannot hire illegal alien workers.)

You see, she is the only administrative law judge handling appeals when employers are fined for either having illegal alien workers, or having inadequate records on the civil status of their workers, or both. The only one in the entire country.

That's right. There is so little enforcement of the law that all the administrative appeals — usually relating to the size of the fines — can be handled by a single person.

And it is not that she is a rubber stamp for the government. She weighs each case carefully and writes thoughtful, full-fledged, heavily annotated decisions. Her latest ruling was published last week and heralded in a Department of Justice press release by this ponderous headline: "EOIR's Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) Publishes Decision".

EOIR being the Executive Office of Immigration Review. The text of the release said: "On May 2, 2014, OCAHO published the following decision: United States v. Crescent City Meat Company, Inc., 11 OCAHO no. 1217 (2014)", along with a link.

The press release reminds me of that scene in "The Wizard of Oz" in which Dorothy discovers that the great show being produced for her is being done by that little man behind the curtain.

Now there are literally millions of illegal aliens in the United States taking jobs that legal U.S. residents could do, and depressing wages in the process. And there are more than six million U.S. employers, but the level of enforcement is so minimal that Judge Thomas can, single-handedly, manage all the appeals from the employer sanctions decisions made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Bear in mind that when Congress created the IRCA amnesty of the 1980s (for some three million illegals) it also set in motion employer sanctions. This was supposed to be an equal balance of amnesty for past offenses and vigorous law enforcement to prevent future ones, but when the dust had settled, millions of illegal aliens all had legal status and enforcement had been condensed so severely that Judge Thomas can handle all the appeals, all by herself.

I should add that I have not met her, nor have I sat in her courtroom — as all her decisions seem to be based on the papers before her. I have read many of her decisions and if anything sense that she is a bit too kind to sloppy small employers, as in the most recent case.

Crescent City Meat Company, Inc. is a sausage-making firm in Louisiana that contended that it knew nothing of employer sanctions, and did not keep the needed records. (It also, to its credit, did not hire illegal aliens.) ICE had proposed a fine of $14,025 and she reduced that to $1,650.

The firm came to this tiny Justice Department operation without a lawyer, and Judge Thomas drilled down deep enough in the case to discover that ICE had not given the sausage factory credit for the fact that two of its employees — hard to believe — were not covered by employer sanctions because they had been working for the company when the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was passed, and hence were "grandfathered in" to their jobs. She scolded ICE for overlooking this element of the case, which had a bearing on the size of the fine.

EOIR's press operation told me that she is, indeed, the only administrative law judge working for the blandly named Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer. The Chief Administrative Hearing Officer is not Judge Thomas, it is a person named Robin Stutman. When I asked what Ms. Stutman, an attorney, does besides look over Judge Thomas' shoulder from time to time, I got no response.

The point of all this is that the size of Judge Thomas' workload is all too reflective of the tiny amount of muscle we put into enforcing the immigration law in the labor market.