PHILADELPHIA – Asplundh Tree Experts, a private company that trims trees and clears brush from gas and power lines headquartered in Willow Grove, will pay a record-breaking settlement of $95 million after allegedly hiring immigrants who were not permitted to work in the U.S.
The settlement was announced Sept. 28 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The company pled guilty and was sentenced to pay $80 million in a criminal forfeiture money judgment and $15 million in civil payment. It is the largest civil settlement ever levied by ICE, it stated in the release.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stated that Asplundh managers and its vice president allegedly told their employees to "accept false identification from prospective employees."
Between 2010 to December 2014, the company allegedly hired thousands of workers who used illegitimate documents for employment, according to the ICE release.
Alka Bahal, a Fox Rothschild LLP attorney and co-chair of the firm's Corporate Immigration Practice Group, wrote an article about the Asplundh ruling and mentioned that the fine amount is "the largest fine against a company" that hired undocumented workers.
"The analysis the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put forward in determining the final amount seemed sound," Bahal told the Pennsylvania Record. "Further, keep in mind that this is the final amount settled upon; we have no idea at what number it started."
Bahal says that while Asplundh has been hit hard for hiring immigrants without proper documents, this practice is not at all unique.
"The ICE branch of the Department of Homeland Security is exclusively dedicated to the enforcement of immigration laws and its Worksite Division is dedicated exclusively to enforcing employer’s compliance with immigration laws, including the I-9 requirements and hiring practices," Bahal said.
The Asplundh case is being used as a cautionary tale to other companies. Not only will the company pay millions for such a discrepancy, but leaders of the business can also face major consequences.
"All employers should be concerned about and pay attention to their hiring processes and compliance with all aspects of the law, including the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and the proper completion and retention of Forms I-9 for all employees," Bahal said.
"Failure to comply, not just where there is a deliberate attempt to circumvent the system, but even where there are 'simple' paperwork errors, can result in significant financial liability for employers."