Congress recently failed to update the nation’s immigration laws, but Colorado last year passed one of the toughest immigration-related statutes of any state, and restaurateurs and other employers there now face stiff penalties and fines for documentation infractions. Starting this year, businesses in Colorado are required to retain written or electronic copies of records that verify the identity and employment eligibility of newly hired workers. Employers also must file an affirmation stating that they have examined the legal work status of the employee and did not knowingly hire an unauthorized worker. Penalties can range from $5,000 to $25,000 if an employer demonstrates “reckless disregard” by submitting fraudulent documents. To help its members understand the laws and how to comply, the Colorado Restaurant Association has begun hosting employer sanction seminars around the state. Conducting the seminars is lawyer Ann Allott, whose firm, Allott Immigration in Centennial, Colo., has been handling immigration and naturalization cases in the state for more than 20 years.
Your firm deals with a variety of industries. Do the immigration laws impact the restaurant industry differently?
If you are a roofer, you can bring in people on H2b [temporary] visas, and if you’re a dairy farmer or peach grower, you can bring people in on H2a visas. But those answers don’t help year-round businesses like restaurants. They really need to redefine the temporary-worker program to include a way to serve a year-round [business] like a restaurant.
How can independent restaurant owners keep up with everything they are required to do?
I was at a bed and breakfast in a small town this weekend, and the owners there had never heard of the Colorado affirmation form. People out of the mainstream who do not belong to a trade organization are naked. They just don’t have a clue that a train is about to run over them. If they don’t belong to a restaurant association like the Colorado Restaurant Association, they have no way to get this information. The national and Colorado restaurant associations serve their members well by keeping them very informed.
What’s the most important thing restaurant owners need to know about Colorado’s immigration laws?
There is a good-faith compliance defense to all this. If you can show you are doing everything you can to fill out the forms correctly, copy the documents and check Social Security numbers, you should stay out of harm’s way. But you won’t have any dishwashers. That’s the dilemma.