The announcement by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement ("ICE") on January 20, 2011, that it has established a large Employment Compliance Inspection Center ("Center") is a warning shot across the bow of all large organizations operating in the United States. In the past, ICE has been criticized for focusing its Form I-9 compliance activities on smaller organizations. With the establishment of this new Center, ICE has now assembled teams of specialists who are able to examine large numbers of Forms I-9 and support increased regional activities in this area. Indeed, ICE Director John Morton has touted the new Center by emphasizing the fact that ICE no longer would be bound by the size of an organization in its expanded audit activities.
Wasting no time, ICE announced on February 23, 2011, that it had issued over 1,000 Notices of Inspection ("NOIs") to employers across the country. These NOIs advise employers that the agency will audit their Forms I-9 and other hiring records to determine whether they are in compliance. This is the third major ICE initiative in this area since July 2009. The existence of the new Center, however, indicates that these NOIs are a harbinger of increased ICE worksite compliance activity involving larger organizations. Worksite enforcement violations carry significant civil fines and, if the violations are willful or part of a business model based on undocumented labor, criminal liability. It thus remains imperative for all employers to incorporate worksite enforcement into their overall risk management policies.