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Houston Chronicle Attitudes Hiring Are Shifting

Attitudes on hiring are shifting
As ruling nears, firms once lax on undocumented worker issue now seek compliance
By JENALIA MORENO Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 4, 2007
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Uncertainty over a planned federal crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers is keeping Houston immigration lawyers, human resources consultants and staffing agencies busy.

Unsure how a federal judge in California will rule on the issue, some employers are worried about the fines and penalties they could face and want help, local experts say.

In August, the Department of Homeland Security issued regulations telling employers to fire workers whose Social Security numbers don’t match names in a federal database.

Those who don’t fire the workers within 93 days of receiving “no-match” letters risk fines and penalties.
Issued by the agency since the late 1970s, according to an administration spokesman, these no-match letters are mailed every year after the government receives workers’ income tax forms.

But experts said employers sometimes ignored these no-match letters.

“Employers kind of got lax about it,” said Haynes and Boone immigration attorney Leigh Ganchan, who has received more calls from clients concerned about no-match letters lately. “I had some companies say, ‘In the past, I just threw those no-match letters in a corner because I didn’t know what to do with them.’ ”

The government wanted that to change with its regulation that was to take effect Sept. 14.

California will receive the most no-match letters for 2006 with 35,474, followed by Texas at 12,713 letters. All told, 138,447 no-match letters will be issued.

But if and when that new rule will go into effect is in the hands of U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney, who issued a temporary restraining order to stop the government from imposing it last month after labor groups, trade associations and others filed suit.

In Houston, both the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Houston Partnership have gone on record as opposing the rule.

Until Chesney issues her decision, which is expected sometime this month, attorneys and human resources experts are giving their clients information about homeland security’s regulations.

“It is a wait-and-see situation as to what the outcome of the courts will be,” said Dan Calvert, director of operations for Houston-based human resources firm Achilles Group.

Some said the ruling is driving more business owners to seek help from human resources firms and attorneys.

Attorney Jacob Monty of Houston’s Monty Partners employs 30 people to perform mock investigations of a company’s I-9s, forms that verify an employee’s eligibility to work. In the summer, only 10 people worked with him on that year-old service.

“It is next to impossible for small- to medium-size business owners to remain focused on running their business if they have to try to understand and comply with the complexities associated with intricate employment law issues,” said Tony Grijalva, chairman and chief executive officer of G&A Partners, a Houston-based human resources, and administrative services firm. ” … this has created greater awareness for the need of outsourcing human resources. We do expect this to be one of many contributing factors to our continued growth.”

The regulation also means more work for staffing firms.

Every quarter, recruiters at DiverseStaff, a Houston based staffing firm audit their files of workers. If the regulation goes into effect, recruiters will audit their files every month, said Carla Lane, the company’s chief operating officer.

“When you are in the staffing business, you have to be really diligent about who you place because that could cost you a client,” Lane said. “You don’t want to be in trouble with the government.”
Even as companies work to make sure they are meeting the laws, false-document vendors are crafting
Social Security cards that match the name of the cardholder.

“These new regulations are not going to end undocumented workers in America,” Monty said.
“It’s great for lawyers, it’s great for HR people. It’s going to invite more fraud. “

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