The federal government is continuing to expand worksite enforcement activities pursuant to the Bush Administration’s policy of “Improving Border Security and Immigration Within Existing Law” as announced one year ago. In an attempt to reduce the pull of the “jobs magnet” that draws illegal workers across the border in search of employment, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has focused worksite enforcement efforts on employers that “defy” immigration law.

Recent ICE press releases describe numerous enforcement actions, including August raids at Dulles International Airport and at the site of a North Carolina defense contractor responsible for manufacturing U.S. military parachutes, and a May raid at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. Statistics posted to its website bear out the marked increase in ICE enforcement. Whereas there were a mere 25 criminal arrests and 485 administrative arrests made in Fiscal Year 2002, ICE has already made over 1,000 criminal arrests and 3,900 administrative arrests in connection with worksite enforcement investigations in Fiscal Year 2008. This includes 116 criminal arrests of owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees. The potential penalties to employers can be steep, as evidenced by the recent case involving Mack Associates, a Nevada-based McDonald’s franchisee. The company was fined $1 million dollars and two senior executives plead guilty to criminal charges that could result in a fine of $250,000 and up to five years in prison. According to published reports, the company employed illegal immigrants by providing them names and Social Security numbers that belonged to other people. Visit the ICE website for more information on the Postville raids and the Mack Associates case.

While the likelihood of any particular employer being subject to a raid or other ICE enforcement action appears low (the number of arrests pale in comparison to the estimated 12 million persons illegally present in the United States), the potential penalties and business disruption strongly suggest that prudent employers will review I-9 employment verification procedures and periodically conduct a self-audit of I-9 records while we all await a possible reform of immigration laws.