Clients often ask, “What’s the risk of not complying with immigration law?” In essence, what they’re asking is how much it will cost if they don’t get it right.  So, I thought it might be helpful to look at some recent immigration-related penalties to illustrate what’s at stake.

The penalties will of course be fact-dependent, and, as you know, the good faith of the employer can have an enormous impact, but generally speaking, sentences for employers range from up to six months in prison for knowingly hiring an illegal worker to 10 years for harboring one.  Also, other charges and additional penalties can be tacked on for crimes like tax evasion, money laundering, bank fraud and false statements that stem from what began as an immigration-related investigation.  Immigration violations also carry significant civil fines of up to $16,000 per worker.

But jail time and fines are not the only significant penalties.   Asset forfeiture, debarment, and reinstatement requirements can also be added on, and there is also the indirect damage from lost productivity, attorneys’ fees and negative publicity.

To put these penalties in real terms, see these examples from recent cases:




Prison Time

Monetary Penalties

HerbCo International, Inc.

May 2012

Knowingly hiring




Atrium Companies (Champion Window and Advanced Containment Systems, Inc. (ACSI))

January 2012

Knowingly hiring



forfeited funds

University of California San Diego Medical Center

January 2012

Discrimination in employment eligibility verification process



Aguila Farms, LLC

November 2011

Knowingly hiring and aiding and abetting (owner)

Harboring (company)


3 years probation (owners)

5 years probation (company)

$2,000,000 forfeited funds (company)

$234,000 fines (owners)

$500,000 fine (company)

YCL, Inc. (The Gateway Hotel)

October 2011

Conspiracy to smuggle, transport and/or harbor, money laundering and tax fraud (owner)

Conspiracy to smuggle and harbor (company)


15 years (owner)

5 years probation (company)

Over $2,300,000 fine (owner)

Over $480,000 restitution (owner)

Over $870,000 money judgment (company)

$5,000 fine (company)

Farmland Foods

August 2011

Discrimination in employment eligibility verification process



Howard Industries

February 2011

Conspiracy to conceal, harbor and shield



Hi-Tech Trucking

November 2010

Hire and harbor illegal aliens


18 months (owners)

2 years probation (owners)

Over $1,200,000 forfeit and $100,000 fine

Catholic Healthcare West

October 2010

Discrimination in employment eligibility verification process



Abercrombie & Fitch

September 2010

Violations of obligation to verify employment eligibility of workers (technology-related deficiencies in I-9 verification system)



Pilgrim’s Pride

December 2009

Hiring and employment of illegal aliens




June 2010

March 2009


Aiding and abetting in harboring (supervisor)

Bank fraud, false statements, money laundering (company)



27 years (former CEO)

 23 months (supervisor)

1 year + 2 years supervised release (manager)

2 years probation (manager)

$26,000,000 restitution


IFCO Systems

December 2008

Hiring and employment of illegal aliens; Overtime violations;

Conspiring to harbor illegal aliens (managers)


16 managers and executives convicted; 5 sentenced to pay a fine and the remaining 11 await sentencing

Over $20,000,000