Page 2 of 2   <      

Cleaning Service Used by Chertoff Calls Immigration Laws Unfair

"This matter illustrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the importance of effective tools for companies to determine the lawful status of their workforce," he said.

The Bush administration has pushed to expand employers' use of E-Verify, for instance, an electronic system that can confirm new hires' work documents against federal databases.

In addition to the Chertoffs' house, Reid said, his service once cleaned the Washington home of former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), now secretary of state-designee, as well as homes of another Bush Cabinet member and Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. In those cases, he said, his company worked as a subcontractor and billing was done by a larger contractor firm.

ICE investigated Reid's company under a 1986 federal law barring employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. It provides for civil and criminal penalties against employers who do not examine workers' documents and keep completed I-9 forms.

In February, ICE agents singled out Reid's company, and they subpoenaed two years of payroll and I-9 records this summer, a U.S. official said. Reid was fined $2,750 for hiring violations and $20,130 for not completing paperwork.

His offenses included failing to ask for IDs from or fill out I-9 forms for several workers who turned out to be in the country illegally. Reid said he also did not verify the eligibility of people he knew were native-born U.S. citizens, including himself, his stepbrother, his sister and his sister's friend.

ICE policy states that companies are not randomly selected for scrutiny and that all investigations are based on tips or intelligence. ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said Reid was targeted under a year-old initiative called Project Safe Harbor, in which field offices pursue employers in the service, agriculture and fast-food industries.

Nantel declined to say when the Chertoffs learned of the investigation. She likened the couple to restaurant or hotel customers who take the owner's word that its workers are legal.

Reid said he was referred to the Chertoffs in 2005 and worked mainly with the secretary's wife, Meryl J. Chertoff, an adjunct professor and director of the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown Law School. Reid's calendar shows that the Chertoffs paid $185 per visit for his company to clean their suburban Maryland home.

Reid said he routinely asked workers to give personal information to Secret Service agents and assumed the workers were authorized because they were cleared.

Chertoff's situation appeared to be different from a case announced last week in which federal prosecutors arrested Lorraine Henderson, the Boston port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, another part of Chertoff's department, on charges that she repeatedly hired illegal immigrants to clean her condominium.

Staff researcher Julie Tate and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company