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I-9 enforcement focuses on criminal arrests, smaller firms

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

In the past few years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has focused its enforcement efforts mainly at large-scale immigration raids at big companies, such as the high-profile arrest of hundreds of workers at Swift & Co. meat-processing plants.

What’s new? Now that ICE has more trained officers and better coordination with other federal and state agencies, it’s targeting more small businesses, too.

ICE announced last summer that it would soon focus its efforts on work site I-9 audits. That initiative really kicked in at the beginning of 2008 and is likely to continue.

Since January, ICE has initiated “a horde of paperwork audits looking at I-9s,” said Cynthia Juarez Lange, a partner at the Fragomen, Del Ray immigration law firm.

ICE also has sharpened its enforcement teeth. The agency has increasingly brought cases against employers under the criminal code, rather than civil penalties. ICE has made more than 900 criminal arrests in FY2008, up from just 72 five years ago.

And it's not just low-wage line workers being targeted—several corporate executives, managers and HR directors also face criminal charges for harboring illegal workers. Possible penalties include fines and jail time.

“The focus has definitely shifted to criminal from civil,” said Lange.

Best bets: Make sure your I-9 and document-checking processes meet federal and state standards. Also, look into partnering with a vendor to make your I-9 process electronic—something more companies are doing these days.

Find compliance advice, plus a copy of the latest version of the I-9 Form, at www.uscis.gov.

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