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In United States v. Desert Canyon Golf, the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) was only focused on the amount of penalties to be assessed against the company for its I-9 errors. Previously, OCAHO determined Desert Canyon had committed 129 violations (click here to see my other blog post on that decision). In this decision, OCAHO assessed penalties of $57,650, which was a significant reduction from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s proposed penalties of $113,742.

To calculate the penalty, ICE set the baseline at $935 per violation based on an 87 percent error rate. ICE mitigated the penalties by 10 percent based on the small size of the business and the lack of history of previous violations. However, it aggravated the penalties by 5% for the seriousness of the violations. Thus the penalties were set at $888.25 per violation.

Desert Canyon argued that the proposed penalties were “excessive, unwarranted, and completely inappropriate.” It stated it essentially committed only one error – failure to sign Section 2 of the I-9 forms in numerous instances. Desert Canyon stated it did not understand the directions on how to complete the I-9 form. Additionally, it asserted its enrollment and use of E-Verify is evidence of its good faith effort to follow the law.

Ignorance of the law is not a viable defense. Furthermore, OCAHO found Desert Canyon did not commit just a single error; rather, it committed the same error many times. Finally, OCAHO stated participation in E-Verify “does not relieve the company from its obligation to properly complete I-9s for its employees.”

OCAHO found that, except for the seriousness of the violations, the statutory factors were in the employer’s favor. Therefore, OCAHO decided to adjust the penalties to the midrange - between $400 and $500 per violation.

The 50% reduction in penalties is consistent with the average reduction after litigation before OCAHO.

A copy of the decision is available here. Cite as: U.S. v. Golf International d/b/a Desert Canyon Golf, 11 OCAHO no. 1222 (2014).