The Obama Administration has not succeeded in bringing about reform of our immigration system, but in one area it has been very active: cracking down on businesses that hire undocumented workers. In fiscal year 2011, which ended on September 30, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted close to 2,500 audits, almost double the number of audits from just two years ago. The Wall Street Journal has just reported that in recent weeks ICE has notified some 500 companies that it will be inspecting its hiring (I-9) records.
In case you think that ICE is only going after small employers or those in the fast food industry or in agribusiness, think again. In late 2010, for example, ICE announced a settlement of more than $1 million with Abercrombie & Fitch resulting from a form I-9 inspection of the clothing retailer's stores in Michigan. No instances of the knowing hire of unauthorized aliens were discovered, but the audit did uncover numerous technology-related deficiencies in the business's electronic I-9 verification system. ICE took the opportunity to remind employers that they are responsible not only for the people they hire, but also for the internal systems they use to manage the I-9 process.
Employers face stiff sanctions for employing unauthorized workers, and can also be hit with fines for improperly completing the I-9 forms. It's very easy for employers to make mistakes in completing the forms, and it's often difficult to know which documents are acceptable proof of an employee's identity and authorization to work in the United States. We recommend that you review your I-9 records carefully and consult with us if you have any questions about whether they comply with federal regulations. If you would like our help in reviewing a sampling of your I-9 forms to see if your company has committed either paperwork or substantive violations, please let us know. We can also advise you on ways to improve your I-9 compliance, including the use of I-9 electronic software systems.