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January 31, 2008

Analysis of the Legal Arizona Workers Act

Late last year, Arizona Republic reporter Ronald J. Hansen has compiled the basics on Arizona's new employer-sanctions law, which went into effect Jan. 1. The sanctions law, known as the Legal Arizona Workers Act, is intended to ensure that no businesses in Arizona knowingly or intentionally hire or employ illegal immigrants.

The article - Everything you need to know about the new employer-sanctions law:

What is the law?

The sanctions law, known as the Legal Arizona Workers Act, is intended to ensure that no businesses in Arizona knowingly or intentionally hire or employ illegal immigrants.

Beginning Jan. 1, all business owners in Arizona risk losing their state and local licenses if they knowingly or intentionally - the law makes a distinction between "knowingly" and "intentionally" - hire undocumented workers after that date. Licenses can be suspended for 10 days or longer for a first offense and revoked altogether for a second offense.

Employers are required to check the legal status of their new hires using E-Verify, a free online federal program that checks names and identification documents to ensure that new employees are eligible to work.

The law also sharpens the punishment for identity theft, a crime frequently associated with illegal workers.

It is now aggravated identity theft, a felony, to possess the identity information of someone else to seek work or to have such information for three or more people without their consent.

Under the law, it doesn't matter whether the information is for an actual person or a bogus identity.

Who is affected?
The sanctions law applies to every employer in Arizona regardless of the size of the business.

Employers face mandatory suspension of their state- and local-issued business licenses for a first offense and permanent license revocation for a second one.

Under the law, each business location seems to be treated separately from its corporate cousins. This means that if a franchise with a violation at one location faces a shutdown, others with separate licenses are not affected unless they also are found to have knowingly hired illegal workers.

However, many business owners with multiple locations share business licenses for tax and legal reasons. This means that those businesses that operate under a single license as one corporate entity face a shutdown at all their sites.

The law doesn't punish undocumented workers but does require state authorities to contact federal immigration officials. Typically, this could lead to prosecution or deportation.

Who enforces it?
The state's 15 county attorneys are primarily responsible for enforcing the sanctions law.

The state attorney general can investigate cases but must refer them to the local county attorney for legal action.

County attorneys must investigate any alleged violation unless it is determined to be frivolous. After receiving a complaint, the county attorney must check on the legal status of the workers by inquiring with federal authorities. The county attorneys cannot try to independently determine a worker's legal status.

If the complaint appears to have merit, the county attorney must contact local police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the suspected violators.

Although federal authorities may pursue their own immigration-related actions against the worker or the employer, the county attorney must go to Superior Court to formally resolve the licensing matter for the business.

In all cases, an employee's actual legal working status is based on a determination by the federal government for that person.

This means Arizona's judges need only consider whether an employer knowingly intended to hire an employee the federal government already has determined is illegal.

The sanctions law is intended to be treated as a law-enforcement priority.

Prosecutors, for example, are ordered to review every complaint. The superior courts are ordered to put the sanction cases on a fast-track. And the attorney general must compile a public database of employers who violate the sanctions law.

However, law-enforcement officials have said that the law includes little budget support for these new obligations.

What about frivolous complaints?
Anyone can make a complaint about suspected violations, but authorities have stressed that it should have a reasonable basis. They want to avoid discriminatory complaints that are based on a general suspicion because, for example, workers don't speak English or aren't White.

Making a frivolous complaint to authorities is a misdemeanor crime. A conviction could carry up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

What are the penalties?
The sanctions law effectively gives the licensing "death penalty" to businesses that are caught twice knowingly putting illegal immigrants on the payroll.

First offenses are more complicated.

Business licenses are suspended for up to 10 days or at least 10 days for a first offense, depending on the circumstances.

The difference between "knowingly" and "intentionally" hiring an illegal worker is a legal determination that an employer not only knew an employee wasn't permitted to work in this country but intended to have an illegal worker on the payroll.

Violators who "knowingly" hire can have their business licenses suspended up to 10 days for a first offense. Violators who "intentionally" hire must have their licenses suspended for at least 10 days. The law does not specify the maximum suspension for a first offense for intentional violations.

In both types of cases, Superior Court judges will determine the length of the suspension and base it on a variety of factors, including: how long the business had employed someone illegally; whether the business had any prior misconduct; and the degree of harm caused by the violation.

For both types of violations, employers must terminate all their illegal employees and file an affidavit within three business days swearing not to hire illegal workers again.

First-time offenders are placed on probation and must file quarterly reports to the county attorney on each new employee they hire at that location during their supervision.

For those with knowing violations, probation lasts three years. Intentional violators face five years of probation.

What does it cost?
It is unclear what the sanctions law actually will cost the state's 150,000 businesses or its government agencies.

The cost to business owners will largely depend on how sizable their operations are.

E-Verify, the federal online program that checks an employee's legal work status, is a free program available to employers and is required under the sanctions law.

Federal authorities say checking names on E-Verify is a process that usually takes no longer than a few minutes per name.

Some large-scale business owners have said that the process has forced them to create positions just to ensure compliance with the state law. Some small-business groups have said the law will force the smallest employers to get computers and go online, an expense that cuts into their already-thin margins.

There are also third-party businesses that can handle employment-verification services for employers, including E-Verify checks and processing I-9 forms.

Legislators budgeted $2.6 million this fiscal year to prosecutors for enforcement and to notify business owners of the law change.

The money breaks down this way:

In October, the state's Department of Revenue had $70,000 to mail notices of the new law to businesses.

The state's attorney general receives $100,000 to help enforce the law and maintain a database of violations throughout the year.

The Maricopa County attorney receives $1.43 million and Pima County's gets $500,000 for enforcement needs.

The other 13 county attorneys divide $500,000, or $38,462 each.

The law requires prosecutors to contact local police authorities and federal immigration officials about suspected illegal workers, which could strain their budgets if it leads to widespread arrests.

It is hoped that the law will lead illegal workers to leave before enforcement is necessary, keeping costs relatively low.

Even so, the state law figures to keep federal authorities busy. Demand for the E-Verify system is growing rapidly because all Arizona businesses will register for it if the law is upheld. Meanwhile, other states have passed laws that encourage using E-Verify.

How do I register for E-Verify?
Registering for E-Verify, the federal online database that checks employment eligibility, can be done through the Web site for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at www.uscis.gov.

Click on the E-Verify logo and follow the links to E-Verify registration.

The program is free, but companies may need to develop software that works with the database.

The government offers toll-free assistance in completing the registration process for E-Verify. Call 888-464-4218.

Before using the program, an employer, or someone authorized by the employer, must sign a memorandum of understanding that outlines the terms of service.

A key requirement is that E-Verify can be used only for new hires within three business days of their start date. It cannot be legally used to consider whether to hire someone or to screen existing employees.

Also, the program checks only employment eligibility. It does not reflect a worker's immigration status.

What do I need to check a new hire on E-Verify?
Using E-Verify largely requires the same documents that businesses have relied on for checking employment eligibility in the past. The system does require posting formal notice to employees and providing certain documents for those whose eligibility is not immediately confirmed.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site, employers need from their new worker:

• Their full name
• Date of birth
• Social Security number
• Citizenship status
• Type of documentation provided for I-9 form
• Proof of identity with expiration date

In addition, employers must post a notice that they use the E-Verify system.

Immigration Services officials say about 93 percent of names are immediately verified as eligible to work in the U.S. Most of those who are not verified are because data was entered incorrectly or differs from information on file with the Social Security Administration.

Frequently, the differences involve legal name changes that were not recorded, or immigration or citizenship status changes that were not shared with the Social Security Administration.

If a worker's information is considered a mismatch by E-Verify, employers must notify the employee and provide a document that outlines their options for appeal and contact information for doing so. They cannot immediately fire the employee.

Workers who are not verified have eight federal business days to formally challenge the mismatch. Federal officials say most challenges are resolved within a day.

What is the legal challenge?
An alliance of business owners, civil-rights lawyers and immigrant-rights groups has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's sanctions law.

Those challenging the law argue that it requires businesses to participate in E-Verify, an online federal program that checks names and identification documents in an effort to ensure new employees are eligible to work in the United States. Since 1986, the federal government has required only that private employers maintain paper identification records, known as I-9 forms, for new hires.

Opponents of the state's new law say it improperly overrides federal immigration and employment rules and can lead to workplace discrimination by those trying to follow it. The state maintains the law affects only business licensing, an area it is entitled to regulate.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake questioned lawyers on both sides during a hearing Nov. 14 in Phoenix, and he is expected to issue his ruling before the law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Among the legal questions hanging over the case is whether the lawsuit is premature. Wake could rule that he can't decide the constitutionality of a law that hasn't gone into effect.

Regardless of Wake's eventual decision, the losing side is expected to appeal. That would send the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Given the flood of immigration-related laws sweeping the country and the constitutional questions they raise, it is also possible the U.S. Supreme Court could choose to hear the Arizona case or a similar one elsewhere that could settle the matter.

In all, the legal process could take months to resolve. Although such moves are rare, it is possible that during that time a judge could temporarily block Arizona's law from going into effect.

What is unclear about the law?

For starters, the E-Verify system at the heart of the law is scheduled to end in November 2008. Congress needs to extend E-Verify to make Arizona's law even possible.

And lawyers have raised several issues that would seem to cloud even the simplest assumptions about the law.

For example, the law makes it a crime to file frivolous complaints about businesses, but lawyers say there is no standard to determine what "frivolous" means.

Also, the standard for opening an investigation could be different across the state.

The Maricopa County attorney has said his office will accept anonymous complaints. The other 14 county attorneys in the state have said they will require names with complaints.

The state requires Superior Court judges to rely on the federal government to determine whether an employee is actually illegal. But it is unclear whether that determination is based on a formal hearing with legal due process for the worker or simply relies on other sources, such as E-Verify, an electronic system known to occasionally make mistakes.

Even the punishment phase of the law raises procedural questions.

For example, employers with a violation are required to dismiss all of their illegal workers. But the law doesn't spell out how they should know who those workers are.

The E-Verify system can't be used for existing employees; only new hires. This presumably leaves businesses relying on their I-9 paperwork system, which the federal government stopped regularly auditing in 2000.

Where can I get more information?
• The Arizona Legislature's Web site provides information about the law's history as a bill.

• Here you can read the text of the law.

• The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides information about E-Verify. You can learn more about the program or sign up for it by going to USCIS

• Creative Business Resources, a human resources outsourcing company, operates a Web site intended to provide information about the law and how businesses must comply.

• The group Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform operates a site with information about the legal challenge to the law provided by those who are suing to overturn it.

• The American Civil Liberties Union is also among the groups suing to overturn the Arizona law and other illegal immigrant-related laws and ordinances nationwide.

Reach the reporter at e-mail: ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493.

Philippines and the planned export of labor

Possibly no nation has been as deliberate in educating and facilitating the temporary travel of its workforce overseas as has the Philippines. According to this article in the Vancouver Sun, it has 24 overseas labor offices to oversee labor protections of its workers. This article deals with an agreement between British Columbia and the Philippines; three other Canadian provinces already have signed agreements. For B.C, the Philippines is already the third largest source of immigrants.

According to the article, a “joint labour committee with members from both sides….will hammer out specific guidelines for training, certification and assessment of both employees in the Philippines and employers in B.C.”

The article in full:

B.C. signs deal with Philippines to attract more workers; Joint committee will hammer out guidelines for training, certification
By Joanne Lee-Young
The Vancouver Sun (Canada), January 30, 2008

The province of B.C. has signed an agreement with the government of the Philippines to help attract more Filipino workers as a way of coping with labour shortages.

On Tuesday, B.C. Minister of Economic Development Colin Hansen signed a two-year memorandum of understanding with Philippine Labour Secretary Arturo Brion.

This will lead to the establishment of a so-called joint labour committee with members from both sides who will hammer out specific guidelines for training, certification and assessment of both employees in the Philippines and employers in B.C.

As well, Brion said the Philippines will establish a labour office in Vancouver to vet potential employers, streamline applications and provide support and social services for Filipino workers in B.C.

'We hope to convene this joint labour committee as soon as possible and to have it set up in three months,' set Brion. 'We already have a labour attache in Toronto, but this one [in Vancouver] will serve Western Canada.'

Although the B.C. government has said that the province needs to attract 30,000 workers per year with specific skills from outside B.C., Hansen said that there is no exact target number for workers from the Philippines.

The agreement will focus first on helping B.C. companies in the tourism, hospitality and construction industries.

'We are confident that this agreement will significantly increase the number of Filipino workers in B.C.,' said Hansen, adding that it will allow 'us to work closely with recruitment agencies, with the oversight of government, so we can streamline that process and ensure that we have the best experience for the Filipino workers that arrive.'

'We want this to be a very good and positive work experience for those individuals, whether they come as temporary workers for a few months and years, whether they come with their families or not, and whether or not they choose to establish permanent residency in B.C.,' said Hansen.

The Philippines ranks third as a source of immigrants to B.C.

In late 2006, the Philippines signed a similar agreement with Saskatchewan. Alberta and Manitoba are also seeking such arrangements. When asked about the success of the existing agreement with Saskatchewan, Brion said that he expects workers from the Philippines will be sent more quickly and in greater numbers to B.C. based on greater 'interest and will' from parties in B.C.

Brion said that the Philippines currently sends millions of workers overseas to over 190 countries. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been hiring workers from the Philippines since the 1970s and today is home to some 1.2 million Filipinos.

'These are our old markets,' said Brion. 'B.C. is a very new one. So far, Filipino workers here have been arriving here in an unregulated manner. We want to make sure there is priority for B.C. and regulations that will protect Filipino workers and all stakeholders.'

The Philippines currently runs 34 overseas labour offices such as the one that will be established in Vancouver. For 2008, Brion said that the Philippines is also earmarking similar new labour offices in Australia, New Zealand, Macau and Ireland.

January 28, 2008

correction: foreign born labor is 17%, not 30%

The Migration Policy Institute issued a correction a few minutes ago. Here is the correct information:

Foreign-born adults of working age (18 to 54) accounted for nearly 17 percent of all working-age adults at the national level, but they represented 36 percent of working-age adults in California, about 26 percent in New Jersey and Nevada, and less than 2 percent in West Virginia.

Also another correction: Foreign-born children under age 18 accounted for more than 4 percent of all children in the United States. This share was higher in California (7 percent) but much lower in Mississippi (0.6 percent).

30% of working age adults are foreign born

The Migration Policy Institute has put out a fact sheet on immigrants. One item: “Foreign-born adults of working age (18 to 54) accounted for 30% of all working-age adults at the national level.” They make up 62% in California.


* One in eight persons residing in the United States in 2006 was foreign born. At the state level, the share of the foreign born in the state population ranged from a high of one in four in California to a low of one in 83 in West Virginia in 2006.

* Of the 37.5 million foreign born, a quarter arrived in 2000 or later.

* Individuals born in Latin America accounted for 54 percent of all foreign born compared to 44 percent in 1990. The share of European born dropped from 23 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2006 while the share of Asian born remained the same (26 percent).

* Foreign-born children under age 17 accounted for nearly 7 percent of all children in the United States. This share was higher in California (11 percent) but much lower in Mississippi (0.9 percent).

* Foreign-born adults of working age (18 to 54) accounted for 30 percent of all working-age adults at the national level, but they represented 62 percent of working-age adults in California, 48 percent in Nevada and New York, and less than 5 percent in Montana and West Virginia.

* In the United States, 48 percent of the foreign born reported Hispanic or Latino origin, compared to 10 percent of the native born.

January 21, 2008

Illegal worker in Rhode Island wins workers comp award

Edgar Velásquez, an illegal Mexican immigrant who accidentally slashed his face open with a chainsaw in 2006, on January 14 won a $30,000 settlement in a groundbreaking case against the owner of a Rhode Island tree service company. I have posted on this case several times. Thanks to Global Workers Justice Alliance for alerting me to this recent development. Velasquez is back in Mexico. Let’s hope he actually receives the award that he won.

The complete story from the Providence Journal:

PROVIDENCE — Edgar Velásquez, an illegal Mexican immigrant who accidentally slashed his face open with a chainsaw in 2006, yesterday won a $30,000 settlement in a groundbreaking case against the owner of a Warwick tree service company.

Velásquez was working for William J. Gorman Jr., owner of Billy G’s Tree Care, who hired the 22-year-old and then turned his back after Velásquez sustained severe injury.

Velásquez alleged that Gorman tipped off immigration authorities, who arrested and deported him before he could pursue his rightful claim under state law. Last fall, one year after his deportation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted Velásquez a rare humanitarian visa that allowed him back into the country to face Gorman in court.

Chief Workers’ Compensation Judge George E. Healey Jr. said the settlement should put employers on notice.

“I think that it’s important that employers realize they cannot employ undocumented workers without consequence,” Healey said.

“My concern in this whole process is that unscrupulous employers will assume that they don’t have to provide a safe workplace and don’t have to be answerable for injuries which occur in the workplace,” he said. “And the resolution of a case like this demonstrates otherwise.”

Velásquez was not in court to hear the news. He returned to Mexico last month, after a three-month stay on his humanitarian visa.

But before he left, Velásquez said he hoped that a preliminary ruling issued in October by Workers’ Compensation Judge Bruce Q. Morin would lead to a full settlement. He said, “I leave it in the hands of God; he will decide what’s going to happen.”

Public pressure brought by Velásquez’s lawyers, Stephen J. Dennis and Maureen Gemma; the Mexican-American Association of Rhode Island; the Mexican Consulate in Boston; and Sen. Jack Reed’s office, brought about Velásquez’s day in court.

Yesterday, Dennis said that he and physicians who treated Velasquez are waiving their fees “so that all the money can go to Edgar.”

Dennis had hailed Judge Morin’s initial October ruling in his client’s favor as “huge.” He said he knew of no other jurisdiction where an injured undocumented worker has been allowed to return to the United States to face an employer in court.

But Dennis said he was not entirely happy with the settlement that he worked out with Gorman’s lawyer, Michael A. St. Pierre. Dennis had originally sought in excess of $70,000 for his client. The agreement requires Gorman to pay Velásquez $300 a month, for 10 months a year, for 10 years or until he pays all $30,000. The two-month exclusion reflects the weather-dependent nature of Gorman’s business.

“It’s as good as we can get, under the circumstances,” said Dennis. He expressed concern, however, that no provisions exist “to keep [Gorman] from going bankrupt.”

St. Pierre said his client has few assets. Gorman declared bankruptcy five years ago, according to court records; however state law prohibits him from declaring bankruptcy again for another two years. St. Pierre could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dennis also said that Rhode Island’s current lack of an uninsured employers fund for workers’ compensation — that would have assured payment to Velásquez — was a stumbling block. Such a fund is slated to become effective in January 2009, but it will not be retroactive.

As Judge Morin noted, however, the agreement provides “a strong incentive” for Gorman to pay up.

If Gorman fails to do so, the state will step in and fine Gorman for $150,000 for not having workers’ compensation at the time Velásquez worked for him. For now, the state has withdrawn its claim — brought separately from Velásquez’s claim — without prejudice.

“Basically, Mr. Gorman has two options. He can either pay the $30,000 [to Velásquez], or he can pay the state $150,000,” said Bernard P. Healey, lawyer for the state Department of Labor’s workers’ compensation division.

Logistical matters remain.

Unless Velásquez is granted another humanitarian visa, the lawyers will send paperwork translated into Spanish, for Velásquez to sign in Mexico. Judge Morin said he will hold a hearing as soon as the paperwork is returned from Mexico, or, less likely, as soon as Velásquez could return to the country.

The accident occurred on March 31, 2006, as Velásquez was chopping tree branches. The saw blade struck a chain-link fence, kicked back and sliced through his nose, left eyelid and forehead. A plastic surgeon repaired his face, but Velásquez still apparently has difficulty closing his left eye.

Velásquez told The Journal in phone interviews from Mexico — and later testified — that Gorman knew Velasquez was an illegal immigrant when he hired him. After the accident, “he denied that I was working for him. He denied knowing me,” Velasquez said.

He also testified that Gorman was abusive toward him, provided little or no training or protective gear, and did not allow him to leave a job until Gorman declared the work day was over.

On Aug. 2, 2006, the day of a scheduled court hearing, immigration agents arrested Velásquez outside the J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence. Velásquez said as immigration agents moved in to arrest him, Gorman stood nearby with a smile on his face, and called out “Now Edgar, I’m sending you back to Mexico … I have no use for you now,” and “Edgar, Adios!”

Cathleen Caron, executive director of the Global Workers’ Alliance, said Velásquez’s efforts will make “a big difference for other workers.”

Dr. Stephen G. McCloy, an occupational health physician who treated Velasquez for his injuries, said, “What I’m most delighted with is that [Velásquez] persisted, and his attorney persisted, and a lot of people came together to help him out.”

Velásquez returned to his remote mountain village in Chiapas shortly before Christmas. The day before he left, he said it is his dream to buy a Toyota four-wheel-drive truck so he can raise and sell more coffee beans to support his mother and brothers.


January 4, 2008

South Carolina court approves workers comp for illegal immigrant

An insurance newswire reported that the state’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the claimant, Mario Curiel. The court cited prior decisions by North Carolina,
Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Minnesota.

The article:

COLUMBIA, S.C. 01/03/2008 (BestWire)-Illegal immigrants injured at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the South Carolina Supreme Court said in a ruling.

The court unanimously upheld a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission and a lower court ruling that held the worker, Mario B. Curiel, was eligible for benefits because of an eye injury suffered while working on a demolition site.

The employer, Environmental Management Services, argued that because Curiel is a Mexican national who used false documentation to get the job, he was not eligible for benefits under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Although South Carolina law specifies workers’ compensation eligibility for any injured worker “including aliens … whether lawfully or unlawfully employed,” the company claimed IRCA’s prohibitions on the use of fraudulent documents to obtain employment superseded the state law.

“To the contrary," wrote Justice James E. Moore for the court, “disallowing benefits would mean unscrupulous employers could hire undocumented workers without the burden of insuring them, a consequence that would encourage rather than discourage the hiring of illegal workers. We find IRCA does not pre-empt state law and claimant is not precluded from benefits under our Workers’ Compensation Act.”

Moore wrote that the decision was in line with those in other states, and specifically cited a 2002 North Carolina ruling in a similar case because, he said, the states’ workers’ compensation laws are the same. That decision, Ruiz vs. Belk Masonry Co., quoted from the original congressional hearings that IRCA is not intended “to undermine or diminish in any way labor protections in existing law.”

Moore also referenced similar decisions by courts in Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Minnesota.

The appeal also dealt with questions concerning the degree of damage to Curiel’s vision, and ordered the Workers’ Compensation Commission to make a determination.

January 3, 2008

A case study of identity theft involving illegal immigratns

Searching for a tangled case of identity theft by illegal immigrants? Here is one involving a woman citizen on workers comp whose identity was used by an illegal worker, who at the same time was receiving benefits of a work injury at another employer. This citizen’s husband’s identity also was stolen and that mixed him up with traffic violations incurred by the impersonator. In this article there is an unrelated third story of identity theft involving a woman on disability. The two women’s cases are linked to an employer, Koch Foods, which had hired the illegal workers and who was uncooperative in helping untangle the messes.

The story in full, from the Citizen Tribune of Morristown, TN:

Newport, TN
Newport couple faces taxes on income never earned
BY ROBERT MOORE, Tribune Staff Writer

For Lora and Jamey Costner, a $7,854 federal income tax bill is the painful indigestion that followed two unsatisfying servings of identity theft cooked up by two former Koch Foods employees, records indicate.

The criminal cases involving the Newport married couple and the two illegal immigrants, who IRS records indicate worked for Koch Foods, have been resolved in the court system.

The bitter aftertaste that remains is the unpalatable possibility of having their wages garnished to pay tax bills on income they never earned at the Morristown chicken-processing plant.

"The overall burden of it all is crushing us, please help," the Costners wrote in an appeal to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "We have done all we know to do."

Mrs. Costner says she realized the magnitude of the problem in July when the IRS informed her that she and her husband failed to report approximately $30,000 in income they earned at Koch Foods during 2005.

The Costners say it’s easy to prove they both worked at Wallace Hardware in Morristown during 2005. Relatedly, Mrs. Costner maintains it’s child’s play to prove they never worked at Koch Foods during that year.

Tim Steffin, Koch Foods human resources manager, did not return a telephone call to comment on the identity-theft cases this morning.

Mrs. Costner says the first indication that something might go badly in July came five months earlier in February when she was out of work due to an on-the-job injury.

Mrs. Costner says state labor officials told her she should not be drawing workers compensation benefits through Wallace Hardware because she had returned to work at Koch Foods the previous month following another on-the-job injury.

Records indicate that someone using her maiden name — Hale — and her Social Security number had fallen off a production line at the Koch Foods deboning plant in the East Tennessee Progress Center, according to the Newport woman.

"I’ve never deboned a chicken in my life," she said Wednesday afternoon.

The foreshadowing for Mr. Costner materialized in April 2006 when learned that he was in danger of losing his driver’s license because of unpaid citations for speeding and driving without insurance.

The traffic stop came at 3 o’clock in the morning while Mr. Costner was asleep. Also, the driver reportedly did not speak English.

Police identified Mrs. Costner’s impersonator as Elizabeth Velasco Bautista, who later pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation, according to Detective Bob Ellis with the Morristown Police Department.

The interloper in Mr. Costner’s life was Douglas Valdez, according to Ellis. Ellis says Valdez avoided the identity-theft charge because a judge ruled that it was not a crime to use someone’s identity to obtain employment.

Valdez reportedly served 45 days on other charges. Mrs. Costner says her sister lived with Valdez at one time, and she’s convinced that’s how their identities were stolen.

Mrs. Costner says when she discovered her identity-theft trail appeared to lead to Koch Foods, she contacted the Koch Foods human resources manager.

She alleges that Steffin was uncooperative and indicated he could not verify whether or not the Lora Hale that was working at Koch Foods had assumed her identity.

In a matter of minutes, the MPD detective conclusively determined that the woman who was working under the name Lora Hale at Koch Foods was actually Elizabeth Velasco Bautista.

The response that Mrs. Costner alleges she received from Steffin is similar to the treatment described by Julie Wheeler, a Maine woman whose identity was stolen when she lived in Morristown.

Detective Sgt. Randall Noe arrested a 27-year-old Koch Foods employee named Lucia Perez last week and charged her with identity theft in connection with the Wheeler case.

Wheeler alleges Steffin was reluctant to act on her complaint. She was in peril of having to repay $14,000 in disability benefits because IRS records showed she had been working at Koch Foods for the past two years.

Wheeler maintains she was living in Maine for the past two years. Wheeler says she’s sorting out the problems involving her disability payments.

The Costners remain in IRS legal limbo. The agency hasn’t begun garnishing their wages, but Mrs. Costner says she fears that could begin any day.

What’s more, the Costner’s $7,854 IRS bill is for the 2005 calendar year. Mrs. Costner says she believes it’s only a matter of time until they receive a delinquent tax notice for the time the two imposters worked at Koch Foods during 2006.

Ellis wrote a letter on the Costners behalf, attempting to resolve the identity-theft morass, but the correspondence didn’t bring immediate results.

Wednesday afternoon, Paul Chapman, a field representative for U.S. Rep. David Davis, R-Tenn., said he would intervene on the Costner’s behalf.

Chapman says he’s been successful in the past resolving issues with the IRS in cases where it’s clear that an error had been made.