I-9 investigations are at an all-time high. Audits of employer I-9 forms increased from 250 in fiscal year 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012. From fiscal years 2009 to 2012, the total amount of fines grew to nearly $13 million from $1 million. The number of company managers arrested has increased to 238, according to data provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Created in 2003, ICE has continued to receive additional funding and now has more than 20,000 employees in offices in all 50 states and 47 foreign countries, with a budget of over $5.65 billion. Based on its resources, ICE has been able to develop a comprehensive worksite enforcement strategy aimed at promoting national security and protecting critical infrastructure by targeting employers who violate employment laws or engage in abuse or exploitation of workers. With immigration reform still uncertain, the trend toward increased scrutiny of immigration related employment practices will likely continue in the foreseeable future. As such, it is even more critical that employers maintain a strong immigration compliance profile. Employers can no longer afford to believe that because they don’t hire foreign national workers, they don’t have any I-9 exposure or liability. Employers should take efforts to safeguard I-9 compliance and be prepared for heightened enforcement.
So, how can you best prepare for a potential ICE audit? For most organizations the key to I-9 compliance starts with a thorough self-examination of existing I-9 forms, current process and operating policy, and past practices aimed at getting your I-9 house in order. Based on this data, analyze the results, initiate targeted training, and standardize your I-9 practices and procedures. As you will likely discover, the I-9 process is error-prone and hard to centralize. Therefore, you will want to implement a solid system to keep track of all the I-9 documents, deadlines, and work visa re-verification requirements. These steps are especially important for companies that have high turnover rates, large numbers of employees and/or multiple worksites.