Tom Homan, the Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has ordered ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit to increase the amount of time it spends on worksite enforcement actions “by four or five times,” consistent with the Trump administration’s stated goal of curbing illegal immigration. Notably, Acting Director Homan also announced a marked change in agency posture, noting that ICE would now target undocumented employees for detention and removal in addition to prosecuting employers for knowingly hiring or retaining workers who lack valid U.S. employment authorization. Noting that ICE has already stepped up its number of worksite inspections, with plans for a significant additional increase during the next fiscal year, Acting Director Homan pointed out: “When we find you at a [work site], we’re no longer going to turn our heads. We’ll go after the employer who knowingly hires an illegal alien…but we’re always going to arrest a person who is here illegally. That is our job.”
ICE’s promised increase in worksite enforcement actions and the agency’s renewed focus on apprehending undocumented workers while also prosecuting the employers who knowingly hire them underscores the importance of proactively implementing proper Form I-9 completion and vetting procedures during the on-boarding process. Importantly, it bears noting that ICE is empowered to prosecute employers for both “actual” and “constructive” knowledge, the latter of which is difficult to define and subject to interpretation. In addition, employers should collaborate with experienced counsel to conduct periodic immigration compliance training and internal audits to identify and address potential workforce challenges before being confronted with an ICE audit.