U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a nationwide I-9 audit initiative on July 1, issuing Notices of Inspection (NOIs) to 652 employers (see the ICE press release). This action confirms the new enforcement strategy promised by representatives of the Obama Administration. In April 2009, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano indicated that ICE would focus its resources in the worksite enforcement program on the criminal prosecution of employers that knowingly hire illegal workers and that ICE would use all available civil and administrative tools (including civil fines and debarment) to penalize and deter illegal employment.

July 1 serves as a sort of “D-Day” for employers with respect to immigration compliance. Commentators have been cautioning employers for years that I-9 processes needed to be shored up as increased enforcement was coming. Whereas the past several years saw compliance efforts centered on seemingly rare worksite raids, the new strategy focuses on employers in a more systematic and widespread manner. The sheer number of audits increases the chances of a government investigation – the 652 NOIs issued on July 1 exceeds the number of audits that took place in all of 2008 when ICE issued 503 audit notices.