MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Roughly 1,250 Twin Cities janitors with suspect employment documents were fired from their jobs in October as their company carried out an audit prompted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an immigration attorney said Monday.
The janitors worked for ABM Industries Inc., a New-York based company that provides janitorial services nationwide.
John Keller, executive director of the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said the firings happened in phases over the month of October. He said he first learned of the audit in early June, when his office received a call from the workers' union.
ABM had sent employees letters that said ICE was requiring workers to show additional documents proving they had legal status to work in the U.S., Keller said.
"Federal law prescribes specific procedures by which employers conduct employment verification activities. Our policy is full compliance with the law," Tony Mitchell, ABM Industries Vice President of Corporate Communications, said in a statement.
A copy of ABM's letter to employees was posted Monday on the Web site of Minnesota Public Radio News, which first reported the firings. The letter said, "ICE has informed ABM that the documentation you previously provided to confirm your employment authorization in the United States does not satisfy the I-9 Form employment eligibility verification requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act."
The letter directed employees to bring in additional documents. The deadline was extended multiple times to give workers more time to provide the proper paperwork — with the final deadline in October.
"We don't really know what initiated the investigation," Keller said. "It sounds like it began under the previous administration in 2007."
The Obama administration has conducted similar audits on businesses. Immigration officials sent notices to more than 600 businesses in July of plans to audit their I-9 forms, which document employment eligibility. The businesses weren't identified.
In the Twin Cities audit, Keller said, the vast majority of the 1,250 fired workers turned out to be undocumented. Keller said to his knowledge, no one was arrested or deported.
Tim Counts, an ICE spokesman in Minnesota, said the agency doesn't discuss ongoing enforcement activity.
Keller said he hadn't seen an audit of this scope before.
"It's usually a very limited review of a much, much smaller number of people," he said.