For several months, it’s been clear the feds were getting serious about compliance with employment eligibility verification laws, and now they’re about turn up the heat even higher.
The enforcement stats speak for themselves:
- Since April 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has initiated 1,897 cases against organizations alleged to be employing undocumented workers. The total in all of 2008 was just 605.
- ICE enforcement actions have resulted in fines totaling $15.8 million since April. The net for all of 2008: $2.3 million.
And that was before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its latest enforcement push.
On Nov. 19, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said the agency would begin a nationwide employment eligibility verification crackdown on 1,000 employers across the country associated with “critical infrastructure”—typically businesses involved in public-safety and national security.
For insider advice on I-9 compliance and immigration changes in Washington, listen to a recording of HR Specialist’s recent webinar presentation: Immigration Compliance Update 2009: I-9s, E-Verify, Crackdowns and the ‘Obama Effect’.
Morton said those employers have received Notices of Inspection (NOIs) alerting them that ICE will start auditing their hiring records to determine compliance with employment eligibility verification laws.
“ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces,” Morton said. “We are increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules.”
He said the 1,000 businesses served with audit notices were selected for inspection as a result of investigative leads and intelligence and because of the business’ connection to public safety and national security. ICE isn’t releasing the names of the employers, citing the “sensitive” legal nature of the audits.
Audits may result in civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation—and lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law.
Audits trigger a comprehensive review of Form I-9s, which employers are required to complete and retain for each individual hired in the United States. I-9 forms require employers to review and record each individual's identity and work eligibility documents and determine whether they reasonably appear to be genuine and related to that specific individual.
Typically, ICE investigators ask employers to produce original I-9s for all employees. Investigators also review payroll information to make sure it matches the information on the I-9s.
This appears to be phase three of an ongoing enforcement initiative.
In April, DHS issued updated worksite enforcement guidance emphasizing ICE's major enforcement priorities—specifically focusing on employers that cultivate illegal workplaces by breaking the immigration laws and knowingly hiring illegal workers.
Then in July, ICE issued 654 NOIs to businesses nationwide in the largest operation of its kind before last week’s announcement. In that effort, ICE agents reviewed more than 85,000 Form I-9s and identified more than 14,000 suspect documents—about 16% of the total number reviewed.
The July crackdown alone resulted in more than $2.3 million in fines to employers.
Advice: Don’t rest easy just because you didn’t receive an NOI. Now is the time to make sure your employment eligibility verification processes are squeaky clean. Review your compliance procedures. Conduct a self-audit of your I-9s and the supporting documentation. Train all managers with hiring authority in the proper way to verify employees' work eligibility.
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