Disneyland and federal immigration officials met Thursday to discuss a recommendation that the famed amusement park receive a nearly $400,000 fine, the largest in California history, for allegedly violating immigrant hiring laws.
Immigration and Naturalization Service agents suggested the huge fine late last month when 1,156 violations reportedly turned up from their examination of files on more than 6,000 employees at Disneyland. The INS said that 55 Disneyland workers were terminated during the course of its 14-month investigation.
Disneyland said Thursday that only five workers were found to have improper documentation, and all were dismissed as soon as the improprieties were discovered. The other 50 were terminated for reasons other than their immigration status. "We have not knowingly hired any illegals," park spokesman John McClintock said flatly.
Disneyland is one of Orange County's largest employers with a peak summer work force of about 12,000 full- and part-time employees. The complex includes both the 80-acre theme park and the 1,131-room Disneyland Hotel.
Robert Reed, the supervisory special agent in charge of the INS' Orange County office, said that the audit of the Disneyland work force was "certainly the biggest we've worked on here. It was very time-consuming."
The case was opened in February, 1992, after Disneyland was one of 2,500 employers randomly chosen from the nation's more than 7.5 million businesses. Agents spent months painstakingly examining immigration forms and copies of green cards on file at the park, and comparing them to INS records.
In some cases, a green card registration or Social Security number might have not have matched one on file at the INS, Reed said.
"They can be all the way from not preparing a form at all, to discrepancies where signatures and days may be missing," he said. Some forms were missing entirely.
McClintock, however, said the majority of the violations did not involve discrepancies in documentation but rather resulted from the company's inability to produce thousands of documents requested by the INS within a 72-hour period.
"We Xeroxed them as fast as we could," McClintock said, adding that Disneyland is conscientious in trying to make sure that all its employees have proper documentation.
None of the violations stemmed from the five employees who were fired for not having submitted proper documents, he said.
Disneyland was told about the hefty recommended fine of $394,840 two weeks ago. The park has until May 22 to decide whether to appeal. McClintock said no decision has yet been made on how the company will respond; its other options are to try to negotiate a settlement or to pay the fine.
The meeting between INS and Disneyland officials ended without a settlement, according to McClintock. "We want to continue discussing and trying to resolve the issues. We can ask for a hearing, but we have no decision at this point."
Kathryn E. Terry, a Tustin lawyer who specializes in immigration law, said that Disneyland has always had an excellent reputation for its hiring procedures.
"Of all the employers in the world, they are very conscientious in their hiring techniques," she said. "They try very hard to comply with the law."
Terry said she knows of Disneyland's procedures, because her two sons have both worked there on a seasonal basis. She said both were required to produce copies of their original birth certificate and Social Security cards.
"If immigrants used fraudulent documents to procure their jobs, how (is Disneyland) to know that?" she asked. "I don't believe for a moment that Disneyland hired illegal immigrants to get cheap labor."
Angela Keefe, president of Local 681 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union that represents hotel and many other workers at Disneyland, said she has received assurances from Disneyland officials that any workers who don't have proper documentation will be referred to the union. That way, the union can try to resolve their immigration difficulties before they are terminated.
"There are a number of people (who are here) legally who have a hell of a time getting through the INS bureaucracy," she said.
She said she fears the publicity arising from the Disneyland case may frighten other employers and cause them to cut back on their hiring of immigrants who may be working legally. "The employers tend to be trigger happy because they fear the INS may come down on them," she said.
* INS ENFORCEMENT EFFORT
Robert Reed of the INS in Orange County answers questions for employers on how enforcement works.
Q&A;: INS Enforcement Program
The decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to levy a fine of nearly $400,000--the largest in California history--against Disneyland is sure to raise concern among other businesses about whether they are in compliance with the law. Here are some questions an employer may have with answers supplied by Robert Reed, the supervisory special agent in charge of the INS' Orange County office.
Q: How does this INS enforcement program work?
A: The INS randomly selects 2,500 employers a year, from among 7.5 million in the nation, for an audit of their work force records. The program, along with any complaints the agency receives, are the major ways the INS decides which employers it should check on. Agents are then sent to the employers' headquarters by an INS field office.
Q: How long does it take?
A: It can take a few weeks or several months. The size of the employer is the key. The larger employers take longer. Agents try not to disrupt the normal workings of an office and try to accommodate employers as much as they can.
Q: What are the odds of being chosen by the INS?
A: There's no way of telling. The program includes all parts of the country, and is intended to make sure that the smallest mom-and-pop operations have the same chance of being chosen as giant conglomerates.
Q: What sort of documentation must an employer have on file?
A: Generally, the INS wants to see the I-9 form, which establishes identity and employment eligibility, that employers must file on all of their workers. The agents will also want to see payroll records.
Q: What are the penalties for violations?
A: It depends. The penalties for paperwork not being properly filled out or completed can run from $100 to $1,000 a violation. Employers who knowingly hire an undocumented worker face penalties of $250 to $2,000 per worker. Criminal penalties are possible, but no such charges have ever been filed against an Orange County employer. To decide whether to choose the low or high end of the fine scale, the INS considers the size of the company, its history of violations and similar factors.
Q: What can employers do if they are about to be approached?
A: The worst mistake an employer can make is to try to falsify documentation. Employers are likely to be caught because the INS checks an employers' records against its own. To avoid headaches in advance, an employer can request that the INS send someone to lecture on how the process works, things to watch out for, and what they can expect. To request one, the telephone number is (213) 894-6521.