Asplundh Tree Experts is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States. The company specializes in removing tree branches to make way for power and gas lines, and in clearing downed trees that have destroyed those lines. This big company had a dirty little secret though, and they were just forced to pay the consequences for it.
The company, headquartered in Philadelphia, has pleaded guilty to hiring illegal aliens who were not authorized to work in the United States, and for maintaining a willfully-blind structure of hierarchy to create plausible deniability. Unfortunately for them, the top executives were unable to wriggle their way out, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced the guilty plea on Thursday.
Following the guilty plea hearing today, the Honorable John R. Padova sentenced the company to pay a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $80,000,000.00 and abide by an Administrative Compliance Agreement, as set forth by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia. Pursuant to a separate Civil Settlement Agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15,000,000.00 to satisfy civil claims arising out of their failure to comply with immigration law.
The $95,000,000.00 recovery, including $80,000,000.00 criminal forfeiture money judgment and $15,000,000.00 in civil payment, represents the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.
According to court documents, from 2010 until December 2014, Asplundh, an industry leader in tree trimming and brush clearance for power and gas lines, hired and rehired employees in many regions in the United States accepting identification documents it knew to be false and fraudulent. A six-year HSI audit and investigation revealed that the company decentralized its hiring so Sponsors (the highest levels of management) could remain willfully blind while Supervisors and General Foremen (2nd and 3rd level supervisors) hired ineligible workers, including unauthorized aliens, in the field. Hiring was by word of mouth referrals rather than through any systematic application process. This manner of hiring enabled Supervisors and General Foremen to hire a work force that was readily available and at their disposal.
By using a highly decentralized system, the company was able to find and exploit those here illegally, hiring and rehiring them over a period of about 4 years according to the investigation. The tactic enabled the company to get a leg-up on the competition, and that advantage enabled them to dominate the market.
While using a decentralized process is usually a good thing for a large company or for a government (especially a government), using that process to violate immigration and employment law is not something we should accept. The laws must be equally applied and not created in such a way that wealthy and/or well-connected individuals or companies can exploit the process at the expense of everyone else.
There’s nothing wrong with hiring immigrants to work for one’s company, but there are immigration laws that need to be respected. When companies engage in this kind of illicit hiring, it attracts people to come to the States illicitly (that, along with the welfare state, and the unduly burdensome process of legal migration).
ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan stated that “Today’s judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable. Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet.”
This is one good step, but in order to further curb illicit entry, many other reforms in the immigration system are needed, and that goes way beyond just a border wall.