On January 10, 2018, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided nearly 100 7-Eleven stores in 17 states initiating worksite enforcement action against the targeted stores. ICE issued I-9 audit notices to the business owners inquiring about hiring practices and whether the store management knowingly employed undocumented immigrants. ICE agents also arrested 21 undocumented immigrants who were employed at the targeted 7-Eleven stores.
In a statement issued by Thomas D. Hogan, ICE Deputy Director, the agency sent a strong message to the business community stating that it would hold all employers who hired and employed an illegal workforce accountable. Derek Benner, who is the Acting Head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), stated that the Agency would be pursuing more large-scale compliance inspections and criminal investigations which would not be limited solely to large companies or any particular industry.
ICE’s has developed a comprehensive worksite enforcement strategy to target employers who violate employment laws, in particular, federal employment eligibility requirements. ICE believes that an effective worksite enforcement strategy must address both employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, as well as the workers themselves.
ICE’s three-prong approach to worksite enforcement actions includes:
- Compliance – I-9 inspections, civil fines and referrals for debarment;
- Enforcement – Arrest employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers, and arrest unauthorized workers for violating laws associated with working without authorization; and
- Outreach –ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program, to instill a culture of compliance and accountability.
Various factors are weighed in worksite enforcement actions, including how cooperative an employer is with ICE investigators and the culpability level of the employer. If the investigation reveals employee abuse, apart from immigration violations, ICE will also investigate violations of federal criminal statutes including, mistreatment of workers, trafficking, smuggling, harboring, visa fraud, identification document fraud, money laundering, worker exploitation, and other criminal conduct by the employer. In addition, HSI investigates employers using force, threats, or coercion (i.e., threats of deportation) to keep undocumented workers from reporting substandard wages or unsafe working conditions.
The threat of civil and/or criminal penalties is meant to serve as a strong deterrent to all employers. One recent example of this is the six-year investigation of Asplundh Tree Experts, Co. (Asplundh), one of the largest privately-held companies in the United States, which resulted in the largest civil settlement agreement ever assessed by ICE against an employer.
ICE’s investigation revealed that Asplundh engaged in a scheme to unlawfully employ undocumented workers, where senior level management willfully ignored the hiring practices of lower level managers who hired workers knowing that they did not have work authorization. The company was ordered to pay an $80 million monetary forfeiture judgment along with an additional $15 million to satisfy a separate civil settlement agreement, based on immigration law violations. The $95 million dollar recovery represents the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.