U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) levied a historic $95 million settlement against a national tree company in connection with a six year investigation by ICE into the company’s hiring of undocumented workers and other immigration violations. This settlement represents the largest payment ever received in an immigration case. Moreover, it demonstrates ICE’s commitment to immigration enforcement and deterring U.S. employers from knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

ICE discovered that from 2010 until December 2014, the company had hired and rehired employees whom they knew had false and fraudulent immigration documents. According to the settlement, the company utilized a decentralized hiring model so that the highest levels of management could remain willfully blind while supervisors and general foremen hired, and were incentivized to hire, unauthorized workers. These workers were recruited through word of mouth referrals rather than a formal hiring process. This model gave the company access to an inexpensive and readily available workforce, thereby maximizing the company’s profit, productivity, and market share.

This settlement serves as warning to U.S. employers about the risk involved in hiring unauthorized workers. In light of this case, employers that hire foreign workers should consult with counsel to develop and maintain a strictly compliant on-boarding program, including strict adherence to I-9 and eVerify regulations. Periodic audits of I-9 documentation can help ensure employees’ proof of U.S. work authorization is continuously up-to-date.