A prominent illegal immigrant known for working for several major media outlets may be breaking the law in more ways than one, according to legal experts.
Jose Antonio Vargas, who directed MTV’s “White People” documentary, has also done work for CNN, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and the Greater Talent Network Speaker’s Bureau — companies that may also find themselves in legal trouble.
Vargas, for his part, appears to be breaking the law by contracting his labor to several media companies through the use of limited liability companies, according to several legal professionals contacted by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Specifically, acquisitions of Vargas’s labor appear to violate the Immigration and Nationality Act 274A – Unlawful Employment of Aliens of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) code.
“The intent of the statute is clear, I think,” Jan C. Ting, a former assistant commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and immigration law professor, told TheDCNF. “I think any member of Congress who was asked about this would have to conclude that the intent of the Congress is to preclude the kind of contractual arrangements that [Vargas] entered into, and I think the purpose for which they were entered into was transparent.”
“I think anyone who deals with him knows that he’s not legally present in the United States, so I think it’s a clear violation,” Ting said.
Much of the work for which Vargas is hired specifically pertains to his status as an illegal alien and as an unofficial spokesman for that group.
“The key word in the statute is the hiring of an alien knowing the alien is unauthorized,” explained the former INS assistant commissioner. “So, the statute of subsection A4 says entering into [a] contract with someone is the same as hiring, so A4 takes you up to A1A, which says now since it’s considered hiring, the hiring of someone, an alien, knowing the alien is unauthorized, is unlawful.”
But Ting noted the difficulty in legally holding employers who contract with illegal aliens accountable.
“The employers have actually gotten a court ruling that says the employer’s obligation is no greater than to look at the document presented on its face,” he said. “And the ruling actually says the employer has no obligation to actually turn the document over and look at the back to see whether it looks like a real document.”
The code to which Ting refers, Immigration and Nationality Act 274A – Unlawful Employment of Aliens of USCIS, reads:
A person or other entity who uses a contract, subcontract, or exchange, entered into, renegotiated, or extended after the date of the enactment of this section, to obtain the labor of an alien in the United States knowing that the alien is an unauthorized alien (as defined in subsection (h)(3)) with respect to performing such labor, shall be considered to have hired the alien for employment in the United States in violation of paragra ph [sic] (1)(A) (emphasis added).
Ting noted that employers of illegal aliens could face civil and/or criminal penalties, including a civil penalty between $100 and $1,000 and a criminal penalty of up to $3,000 per illegal alien employed.
Vargas owns or operates three LLCs. He is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Define American Inc, the “majority manager” of the for-profit Undocumented, LLC, and CEO, founder and editor of the for-profit #EmergingUS LLC.
Define American is a “media and culture organization” that successfully campaigned for politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as companies like NBC and the Associated Press, to drop or ban the use of “illegal” when describing “undocumented immigrants,” according to a GuideStar report on the company obtained by TheDCNF. Define American also opened college chapters to shape language and stories pertaining to immigrants, and introduced a media scorecard system to rate TV networks on how they cover immigrants. The nonprofit’s income was over $3 million for 2015.
Define American Inc. obtains services from Undocumented, LLC. The two for-profits, #EmergingUS and Undocumented, both operate from the same address.
“Undocumented, LLC (“Undocumented”) provides services at or below market value to Define American,” according to the group’s audited financial statement, which was acquired by TheDCNF. “It also produced 2 films, Documented and White People. Define American uses these films in its campaign. When contracting with CNN and MTV, Undocumented negotiated for both films to be Define American projects. Define American does not hold contracts with CNN and MTV. Vargas (Define American’s Board President) is Undocumented’s majority manager.”
“During 2015, Define American received a discount on licensing fees relative to the screening of the movie ‘Documented,‘” the statement continues. “The total discount received is not significant for financial reporting purposes. Undocumented, LLC also provided space identification consulting services for different events that Define American hosted throughout 2015. The events were at multiple locations, and each event space rental had a different market value dependent on the event and the location. Therefore, calculation of any relative discount for these services cannot be accurately estimated for reporting purposes.”
While contracts for work Vargas has done with CNN and MTV list Undocumented, LLC, Define America described them as “Define American projects.”
Vargas alludes to the presence of what may be an LLC loophole on the website for his for-profit #EmergingUS.
“Despite being undocumented, Jose is actually a job creator,” the #EmergingUS website reads. “Though undocumented people can’t be knowingly employed by others, they can create their own businesses and hire employees.”
But contracting those services to the several media organizations aforementioned still appears to violate the law.
“You may not use a contract, subcontract or exchange to obtain the labor or services of an employee knowing that the employee is unauthorized to work,” notes US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Michael M. Hethmon, senior counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, told TheDCNF that United States Code would sanction both the LLC and the contractor, in addition to the illegal immigrant — in this case Vargas, himself.
“An illegal alien without work authorization cannot engage in employment,” said Hethmon, citing 8 USC 1324a. “Specifically, that [Immigration and Nationality Act] statute also prohibits the use [of] contracts to circumvent the work authorization requirement.”
“This provision would sanction the person contracting with the LLC as well as the LLC itself, as if either party had directly employed the illegal alien,” continued the senior counsel, noting that the LLC money-funneling would trigger a civil case and fine the illegal alien LLC owner.
“In addition to being deportable, the illegal alien who accepts unauthorized employment through a front LLC is barred from applying for lawful permanent residence status,” stated Hethmon, referencing 8 USC 1255(c)(8).
TheDCNF spoke with a lawyer and certified public accountant who confirmed, under the condition of anonymity, that people can register LLCs using a Social Security number (SSN) or an employment identification number. As an illegal alien, Vargas would not have an SSN, but he could obtain an employment identification number with an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), which allows illegal aliens to pay taxes. Both Social Security numbers and ITINs are nine digits in length. Some states check to see whether the number used to register an LLC is an SSN, but others do not. None of this prevents illegal aliens who own LLCs from being deported, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 237 (a)(1)(b).
In the future, ITINs should be given more or fewer digits than Social Security numbers so they cannot pose as SSNs, according to the lawyer with whom TheDCNF spoke.
TheDCNF reached out to Vargas, MTV, CNN, The Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Greater Talent Network speaker’s bureau, all of for whom Vargas has done work, requesting comment concerning how exactly they contracted his labor.
The Washington Post and Greater Talent Network declined to comment. The Huffington Post stated that it did not pay Vargas for the nearly 100 articles the illegal immigrant has contributed to the site. The Los Angeles Times said that it did not “currently have any business relationship with Jose Antonio Vargas or his company,” but did not reply to additional requests for comment regarding the five articles Vargas had previously published on its site. CNN and MTV did not return requests for comment.
“All contracts between [Vargas]’s companies and other entities are thoroughly vetted by lawyers on both sides,” said Lara Drasin, a representative of Define American.
TheDCNF also reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which directed comment to the Internal Revenue Service.
“Federal law prohibits the IRS from discussing specific taxpayers,” said Dean Patterson, an IRS spokesman.
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