The sentences issued for a Novi couple convicted of illegally harboring five immigrants in their basement disappointed the prosecution, who was hoping for a much more strict sentence.
The illegal immigrants died on Jan. 31, 2016 after becoming trapped in the basement of the couple’s house. A fire, believed to be caused by a lit cigarette and careless smoking, ignited and all five immigrants perished.
Roger Tam, 57, and his wife, Ada Mei Lei, 50, owned Kim’s Garden Chinese restaurant in Novi, where the victims were employed by the couple. The ages of the victims ranged from 16- 22 years old.
While the U.S. Attorney’s office sought sentences of more than seven years in prison, U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani sentenced Roger Tam, 57, to nine months in prison, and his wife, Ada Mei Lei, 50, to a year of supervised release.
The couple, who sold their Novi house, closed their restaurant, and sold a liquor license for their business, was also ordered to pay $173,999 in restitution, according to the government’s sentencing memo.
Tam, a legal immigrant from Hong Kong in 1989 is a legal U.S. resident. He paid the employees what the government called a “substandard wage” to work in the restaurant.
U.S. attorneys said the victims worked six days a week, from about 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and were paid $2,000 per month, tax-free. They were also given free food while working and allowed to live in the basement free of charge.
The basement was renovated into a living area with two bedrooms after the couple purchased the home in 2015.
U.S. attorneys referred to it as a “flophouse”, or a run-down tenement.
“These were not squalid quarters,” the couple’s attorney said at the sentencing, according to Crain’s Detroit. “If it had not been for the fire, these would have been excellent quarters. … I know you feel terrible, truly terrible for what happened to these young men.”
Due to a cockroach infestation, the couple was living in another lakefront home they owned in Walled Lake with their daughter at the time of the fatal fire.
The government alleged several code violations that may have contributed to dangerous conditions in the home, including a lack of adequate fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and escape openings in the basement.
A neighbor told investigators the couple has had illegals, usually Hispanic men, living in their basement at the home in Novi for years.
The couple accepted plea deals in February and pleaded guilty to five counts of harboring illegal aliens and a count each of conspiring to harbor illegal aliens.
According to FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform): “Anyone employing or contracting with an illegal alien without verifying his work authorization status is guilty of a misdemeanor. Aliens and employers violating immigration laws are subject to arrest, detention, and seizure of their vehicles or property.”
More than 500,000 companies now use E-Verify, the free online service that allows United States employers to confirm their new employees’ eligibility to work.
“Since it was established, E-Verify has experienced exponential growth, increased accuracy, and high customer-satisfaction ratings,” said Lori Scialabba, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “Participation in E-Verify is largely voluntary, so the fact that half a million companies have signed up demonstrates significant confidence in the program. Employers using E-Verify find it helps them maintain a legal workforce in a quick, secure and accurate way.”
Employers who use E-Verify receive a response on an employee’s work authorization status within seconds. 98.8 percent of work-authorized employees are automatically confirmed instantly or within 24 hours, requiring no further employee or employer action.
One of the few areas of the immigration policy debate where there is near universal consensus is that the availability of jobs in this country is the driving force behind large-scale illegal immigration. Ending the magnet of employment in the U.S. will be a priority for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2018, the agency announced this week.
If the Trump administration is serious about controlling illegal immigration and illegal alien driven crime, it should begin by going after employers who hire illegal aliens. The move would not only help to prevent the exploitation of illegal immigrants, but it would also help to foster higher-paying jobs for American workers.