As we reported in the May 2012 issue of the Immigration eAuthority, in recent weeks, employers nationwide have been ordered to submit their I-9 employment eligibility forms and other documents for inspection. This upward trend in investigations by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is ongoing. Most recently, it has been reported that, in the last week of May, a new round of approximately 500 Notices of Inspection (NOIs), directed toward employers engaged in critical infrastructure, agriculture and other industries, was issued by ICE.

ICE vigorously works to reduce the demand for illegal workers by targeting the employers that hire them. Moreover, the expanding rate and scope of I-9 audits seem to indicate that companies of all sizes, types and industries – not just the most egregious employers – are at risk of an enforcement action by ICE.

Employers Should Take a Proactive Approach

The focus on audits and other worksite enforcement actions will continue and employers should expect these surges in audits several times a year. Employers thus are reminded to review immigration compliance policies and practices.

When reviewing or evaluating compliance programs, it is essential that companies examine their hiring policies and practices, take steps to ensure their workforce is legal by making good faith efforts to verify employment eligibility, and proactively discuss compliance with experienced legal counsel. Reviewing I-9 policies, training persons responsible for I-9 completion, and conducting a self-audit of I-9 records (whether with knowledgeable internal staff or outside immigration counsel) are just a few of the steps a prudent employer should contemplate. In addition, employers should consider using electronic I-9 software to improve I-9 completion accuracy. Completing these steps is likely to reduce potential fines and the chance of other sanctions being imposed should your company be the subject of an ICE I-9 audit. Fines for knowingly employing illegal aliens range from $375 to $14,000 for unauthorized workers, while fines for paperwork I-9 violations can range from $110 to $1,100, with higher fines being imposed based on a percentage of errors. Businesses engaging in unlawful practices should take note of the significant penalties and ensure that they are in compliance with the law.