The past several years have seen a continuing increase in immigration enforcement. Employers are and will continue to be the focus of those enforcement efforts. The key federal enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), plays the role of both foe and friend to employers.

On the one hand, ICE is the key enforcer of the rules. On the other hand, ICE works to “partner” with and develop education and compliance programs for employers. Some employers want to keep ICE away from their doorstep. Others, invite ICE in for coffee. Perhaps this is a strategic approach of keeping your enemy close!

The I-9 process, mandatory for all employers in the U.S. regardless of size, industry or geographic location, is designed to ensure employers do not knowingly employ people without authorization to work in the U.S. Employer compliance with the I-9 rules runs the gamut from employers who have never heard of an I-9 Form to those who spend significant time, energy and resources on strict compliance. Most employers fall somewhere in the middle. My experience in conducting private I-9 audits for clients reveals a need for greater awareness and training.

ICE offers to employers various tools they may adopt on a voluntary (though sometimes mandatory) basis, e.g. E-Verify and the IMAGE program. In doing so, ICE seeks to align itself with employers as their “Workforce Compliance Partner.”

IMAGE is an acronym for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers. The program was announced in 2006 and has undergone various developments since.

ICE describes the program benefits as follows: “IMAGE now offers a formal membership certification program that focuses on exceptional employers that have the ability to effect change within their industry or region. These employers also serve as an example and role model in the business community while highlighting the importance and viability of immigration compliance. “

IMAGE participants will be certified upon enrollment and completion of the following requirements:

  • Complete the IMAGE Application Form
  • Enroll in the E-Verify program within 60 days
  • Establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy that includes an internal Form I-9 audit at least once a year
  • Submit to a Form I-9 Inspection by ICE
  • Review and sign an official IMAGE partnership agreement with ICE

IMAGE participants will receive education and training on hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, use of the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program and anti-discrimination procedures.

Whether IMAGE is appropriate or beneficial for an employer will depend entirely upon an employer’s facts, circumstances and objectives.