Heightened enforcement of immigration laws is a trend widely expected to continue under the Trump administration, including the recent increase in government audits of employers’ Forms I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). The widely publicized immigration raids conducted from coast-to-coast over the past several weeks — coupled with significant increases fines for I-9 paperwork violations that can range from $216 to $2,156 per error — underscores the need for employers to enact comprehensive compliance policies to reduce the risk of civil penalties and, in certain cases, criminal liability.
On January 25, 2017, the president signed an executive order (Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States) that explicitly labels the undocumented immigrants “a significant threat to [U.S.] national security and public safety.” The order also targets “sanctuary cities” whose policies protect undocumented non-citizens from federal enforcement efforts.
A fact unbeknownst to many: the federal government spends more on enforcing immigration law than it does on all other principal criminal law enforcement agencies combined — outspending the collective enforcement budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The federal government has used these resources to create a comprehensive worksite enforcement infrastructure that targets employers who violate employment or immigration laws. Notably, an audit of Forms I-9 can be initiated by any number of government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, or, most often, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Now more than ever, it is critical that employers maintain a strong immigration compliance profile. Standardized training, implementation of best practices and procedures, and audit of employees’ Forms I-9 themselves could safeguard employers from considerable liability in this era of increased enforcement.