With Passover on the horizon, many Jewish families elect to spend their time away from home. These “Pesach vacations” add travel to a holiday already imbued with numerous chores – getting to be machmir can often require hours of labor. With the added cleaning, travel, food preparation, and family commitments, some will rely even more on their trusted housekeepers and/or domestic workers, even bringing them along for the vacation. But before you buy his or her flight to Florida, it’s critical to know the worker’s immigration status. With a new presidential administration now in charge, even domestic travel may buy her a one-way ticket back to her home country.
To be sure, domestic workers play an integral role in many Jewish families. They perform child care, household tasks, and/or upkeep of a home or surrounding yard on a regular basis in return for wages or other benefits. Many are entrusted with the most important people in our lives – our children – and even more are trusted with our very homes and our prized belongings. Given deep-seated reliance, families may treat home workers as members of our extended family.
Despite families’ affinity and, indeed, love for their domestic workers, the reality is that they often lack immigration status. Many of my clients are unfamiliar with employment authorization rules or presume they only apply to corporations. Regardless of the reasons, many families have hired workers who lack employment authorization due to their immigration status. Not knowing this status can have serious consequences for both the worker and your family.
To be clear: it is illegal to employ anyone without valid immigration status. All employers – even for household workers – must complete a Form I-9 to verify the employee’s immigration status. Failure to comply with the I-9 rules can result in substantial civil fines or criminal charges for recruiting, employing and harboring illegal aliens. Your need for a clean house during Pesach will certainly not be a viable defense to a charge of knowingly transporting an illegal alien across state lines by plane or other conveyance, and your beloved worker will be subject to deportation proceedings.
Your worker’s risk of deportation is increased substantially if he or she travels, even domestically. Whenever anyone travels, whether by air or on ground, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is present to oversee operations. Nannies, housekeepers and other undocumented individuals should be wary as they pass through airports, bus terminals, train stations or other crowded areas where authorities may require documentation. In addition to the TSA checking identification, there are multiple other agencies charged with seeking out unauthorized noncitizens, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and state and local police departments. Since the inauguration of President Trump, major media outlets have reported several instances whereby immigration officials have verified the immigration status of domestic passengers. Recently, Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was accused of committing visa fraud and providing false statements in order to gain entry to the United States for her domestic worker.
Our nation was literally built on the backs of immigrants; many readers of this article are the children and grandchildren of individuals who came to this country with little more than the clothing they wore. It was their hard work that laid the foundation for the secure future of our families. At the same time, our nation is growing and the threat of terrorism and illegal entry into the country is also expanding. As a result, increasingly strict laws have been put into place to protect our nation’s borders and our economy. Your nanny or housekeeper, though an integral contributor to your family, is not afforded the same freedom of travel as a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or a noncitizen with work authorization. Homeland Security and other federal agencies are looking for illegal aliens on commercial airliners, private planes, trains or buses, particularly in light of recent events. It may be time to get out the extra pair of rubber gloves to do dishes, employ local legal help if you can find it or hire your friend’s high school-age daughter to babysit at night.
I strongly support the contributions immigrants continue to make to our country, but until our system of immigration is reformed it is important to stay on the right side of the law. If you do happen to employ an undocumented nanny or housekeeper, he or she should certainly not be part of your out-of-state Pesach vacation. Try to remember, when you hear of a congressional debate about an anticipated act that will fix our broken immigration system, to participate in convincing your congressperson of the need to enable sponsorship of foreign domestic workers who are so needed here. Let’s hope that by next Pesach you will be able to include your household help in your plans for the holiday.
* This article is based on information available as of its publication and is not intended to be all-inclusive or to furnish advice in a particular case. We are not responsible for any changes in regulations that may occur subsequent to publication. Please feel free to contact our office for further information and advice.
Michael J. Wildes, is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. Mr. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn (1989-1993). Mr. Wildes has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation and is internationally renowned for his successful representation of several defectors who have provided difficult to obtain national security information. He is frequently a legal commentator/analyst for network television. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and teaches Business Immigration Law. From 2004 through 2010, Mr. Wildes was also the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey–where he resides. Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. has offices in New York, New Jersey and Florida and Los Angeles by appointment only. If you would like to contact Michael Wildes please email him at email@example.com and visit the firm’s website at www.wildeslaw.com