Three Jardin Magico workers flagged in I-9 investigation return to work

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August 8, 2013
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

One-third of the workers at the daycare Jardin Magico have left the company, following a federal demand for I-9 documents.

Of about 60 employees whose status was questioned, three of them returned to work. None of the others are contesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"[Three] is a very small number," said Jon Austin, a public relations counselor for the daycare."The good news is that 13 have started a process through the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota to get status."

The federal investigation has prompted some Jardin Magico parents to become involved in immigration reform. One is an attorney, who offered pro bono legal services. Some parents want to volunteer at the Immigrant Law Center, and others plan to write elected officials.

"It's a very passionate community of parents," Austin said. "Families think of these folks as part of their families. They worked with their children within weeks of being born."

Jardin Magico operates locations at 3928 Nicollet Ave., 3836 Minnehaha Ave., and 5101 France Ave. S.

The daycare serves more than 400 families, with a waiting list typically three times its capacity. Many of the faculty are native Spanish speakers, and the immersion model allows children to carry on conversations in Spanish by the time they reach Kindergarten.

An agency spokesman did not comment about the case, but said ICE's Homeland Security Investigations conducts routine audits to ensure compliance with U.S. hiring laws.

"During the course of this investigation, one employee who had been previously deported, and was unlawfully present in the US, was arrested at another location and will enter removal proceedings. At this time, no other employee arrests have been made in this case," read an ICE statement.

Employees were given a week on paid leave to prove their legal status.

"We can say without hesitation or qualification that our hiring practices have been, and will remain, in full compliance with all laws, with our licensing requirements and consistent with best practices in our industry," said owners Xavier Lopez and Natalie Standridge Lopez in a July 14 letter to families.

Austin said that prior to the investigation, the government only required Jardin Magico to make a reasonable judgment on whether an applicant's residency documents indeed connected to the applicant.

In the future, however, the company might start using E-Verify, a government program that compares I-9 forms to other federal records to confirm employment eligibility. The program is voluntary for most U.S. companies.

Austin said the center is maintaining its required teacher-child ratios. Jardin Magico is keeping the doors open by placing expansion plans to Eden Prairie and Maple Grove on hold, using employees in training to take the vacant spots.

Prior to the investigation, Jardin Magico was planning to open its Eden Prairie site in July, with enrollment anticipated at 75 percent capacity. The Maple Grove site was scheduled to open in the fall in a renovated Maple Grove library.

"It's certainly delayed," Austin said. "I don't think that's as much of a focus as making sure the existing centers are operating smoothly."