Since the federal government vowed to take strong measures against employers and unauthorized foreign workers under the “Buy American Hire American” (BAHA) Executive Order, we have seen an increase in the number of worksite enforcement visits and arrests. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its workforce by four to five times, and as a result, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of worksite enforcement visits. A review of this increase has also made it more difficult to predict which employer(s) might be targeted.

Here are some of the key worksite visits by ICE from the first nine months of 2018:

  • Last month ICE arrested 364 individuals during 30-days of enforcement visits in the midwestern states of Illinois (134), Indiana (52), Kansas (43), Kentucky (60), Missouri (42), and Wisconsin (33).
  • Also, last month ICE conducted a worksite visit at a family-owned business in Texas with 500+ employees and arrested ~160 foreign nationals. In 2014, the employer had paid a $445,000 fine for hiring individuals without proper work authorization. (This likely put the employer on ICE’s continued radar.) Remember that if a business has previously been audited by the government and fined, repeat violations can result in higher monetary fines and more serious charges. So, it is in the business’s interest to implement measures to avoid committing the same types of violations in the future.
  • ICE served search warrants at various businesses in Nebraska and Minnesota resulting in the apprehension of 133 foreign nationals this summer. The businesses included a grocery store, restaurants, a private ranch, and a grain company. According to ICE, these enforcement actions were part of a 15-month on-going investigation based on evidence that these employers were knowingly employing unauthorized workers.
  • In June 2018, 200 federal officers raided an Ohio gardening and landscaping company, arresting 114 foreign nationals suspected of being in the U.S. without lawful status. ICE also obtained volumes of business records to investigate and determine whether to file charges against the business. It has been reported that the Department of Homeland Security had been receiving tips about the employer’s unlawful business practices for years, and it began investigating the employer after arresting a woman suspected of operating a document mill.
  • In April 2018, 97 foreign nationals working at a meat processing plant in Tennessee were arrested on federal and state charges. This was a joint operation between the Homeland Security Investigations arm, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. According to the IRS, the business is under criminal investigation for evading taxes, filing false tax returns, and hiring immigrants without work authorization. The government opened a case to investigate the business after the employer’s bank noticed large sums of money being withdrawn every week, supposedly to pay the unauthorized workers in cash. The IRS alleges that the business failed to report $8.4 million in wages and failed to pay at least $2.5 million in payroll taxes.
  • In January 2018, ICE raided nearly one hundred 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and D.C. to issue Notices of Inspection and interview employees. The investigation led to 21 arrests. ICE stated that this should be a clear message to employers who hire foreign nationals without proper work authorization. ICE stated this raid was a follow-up enforcement operation on a 2013 raid where nine 7-Eleven owners and managers were charged with various crimes, including conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities, and concealing and harboring undocumented individuals employed at their stores.

As these incidents make clear, employers need to take action now to review and assess their company’s hiring practices and get everything in order. Even if your company does not routinely hire foreign nationals, you are still subject to immigration laws, most notably the ones relating to keeping proper Form I-9s and using E-Verify (where applicable). Fixing a problem now, especially with help from immigration counsel, is much smarter – and less expensive – than fixing a problem after an ICE raid or other government enforcement action.