U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan said Tuesday that the agency will quadruple to quintuple the number of workplace inspections it conducts in the coming year. Homan spoke at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. and made the remarks in response to a question about whether the agency is going to continue to conduct routine workplace investigations.

“We’re stepping up worksite enforcement,” he responded. Homan added that after assessing the percentage of time the agency spends on inspections, he recently ordered ICE’s investigative unit, Homeland Security Investigations, to increase worksite inspections by “four to five” times the current levels.

“We’re taking worksite enforcement very hard this year,” he said. “We’ve already increased the number of inspections and worksite operations—you’re going to see that significantly increase this next fiscal year.” He added that ICE will not only prosecute employers but will detain and deport undocumented workers found in such inspections.

Key takeaways:

  • Employers should be prepared for an increase in routine immigration inspections and aggressive prosecutions of Form I-9 violations.
  • Companies that are targeted for an ICE inspection generally receive a notice of inspection requiring the company to produce their Form I-9 paperwork and submit to an inspection of their I-9 forms and supporting documentation by ICE agents.
  • Employers found to knowingly hire and continue to employ undocumented workers face fines and penalties ranging from $539 to $21,563 per unauthorized worker, depending on whether the employer is a repeat offender, plus a maximum $2,156 for each paperwork violation. In egregious cases, employers may face criminal prosecution.

Background: Homan’s comments come on the heels of the largest civil settlement levied by ICE. The case involved a nationwide tree company that agreed to pay $95 million, including $80 million in criminal forfeiture fines, to settle allegations that low-level managers knowingly employed undocumented workers while higher management remained “willfully blind” to the hiring practices. When the settlement was announced Sept. 28, Homan said that the case “sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: We will find you and hold you accountable.”

BAL Analysis: Employers should be aware of the agency’s mandate to step up inspections and are encouraged to conduct an internal audit to ensure that they are in compliance with Form I-9 requirements.