After Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last week secured criminal charges against seven current and former corporate managers and detained 1,187 illegal aliens working for IFCO Systems, a pallet and plastic-container company, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this was just the first step in a new campaign to strictly enforce the law against large-scale employers of illegal aliens.
"We're going to move beyond the current level of activity to a higher level in each month and year to come," he said.
It's about time.
The IFCO bust was the biggest ever for ICE. But if Chertoff follows through, IFCO may soon seem like just a nice-sized fish in a sea teeming with monstrous scofflaws.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) already knows where the immigration-law-breaking Leviathans lurk. We will soon learn if Congress and the administration really want to catch them.
Last year, I wrote a series of columns and testified on June 21 in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration about the Social Security Administration's Earnings Suspense File (ESF) and how it could be used to enforce the immigration law.
The ESF is where the Social Security Administration puts W-2 reports when the Social Security number on the report does not match the name. According to the Government Accountability Office, the ESF is growing by about 9 million W-2s per year.
This growth is primarily driven by employers who hire illegal aliens and file W-2s on their behalf using either another person's or a fake Social Security number.
Each year, SSA produces an internal list naming every employer that filed 100 or more non-match W-2s the previous year. SSA Spokesman Mark Lassiter told me this week that SSA also sends a notification letter to each employer who filed more than 10 bad W-2s in a year if those bad W-2s exceeded 0.5 percent of the employer's total W-2s.
Most employers on the list of those filing 100 or more bad W-2s most likely received a letter from the government telling them they had filed those bad W-2s.
This brings us to a second list. Call it the Leviathan List. In October 2004, the SSA inspector general released an audit report listing the "Top 100" employers that had filed the largest number of bad W-2s in the five years from 1997 to 2001. The report did not name the employers, but listed them by the state in which they were headquartered, the number and percentage of their bad W-2s, and other payroll data.
According to an affidavit filed by an ICE investigator in the IFCO case, IFCO filed about 5,800 W-2s for its pallet division in tax year 2005 and 53.4 percent of those were bad.