Worksite enforcement actions related to unauthorized workers are on the rise. Fulfilling a promise from 2017, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigatory arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has significantly ramped up its efforts to clamp down on the employment of unauthorized workers. ICE’s recently released statistics for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 show a dramatic surge in the number of worksite enforcement actions carried out by HSI. According to HSI Associate Director Derek N. Benner, this trend is intended to:

“protect jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, reduce the incentive of illegal migration, eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and ultimately help strengthen public safety and national security.”

According to ICE, in FY 2018, HSI quadrupled its worksite investigations (6,848 in FY 2018 versus 1,691 in FY 2017) and its Form I-9 audits (5,981 in FY 2018 as compared to 1,360 in FY 2017). In addition, HSI made 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests in FY 2018, compared to 139 and 172, respectively, the previous year. This reflects an increase of between 300 and 750 percent in these statistical categories.

Employers should not expect this trend to change any time soon. The Trump administration views reducing illegal employment as a critical part of its broader hardline immigration policy and is clearly committed to vigorous enforcement. The time for employers to make sure their immigration compliance practices are in order is now.

So, What Can You Do?

There are a number of measures that an employer can take to reduce its potential exposure in the event it finds itself in ICE’s crosshairs:

  • Make sure your Form I-9s are completed timely and correctly. Check your current protocols to ensure that these forms are being processed properly when new employees are hired. If ICE initiates an investigation at your place of business, having good Form I-9s will go a long way in reducing potential exposure.
  • Provide comprehensive training to the company representatives who are responsible for completing your Form I-9s. Completing these forms correctly is not rocket science, but knowing how to do it properly takes training.
  • As we have said before, conduct an internal audit of your existing Form I-9s or have an independent third party do it for you. If your Form I-9s are missing or contain errors, there are steps you can take to improve your lot. Do this sooner rather than later. Once ICE shows up, you’re probably out of time.
  • Be prepared in the event of a Form I-9 audit or other ICE investigation. It’s critical to know in advance who at the company is responsible for dealing with ICE officials. No employer is exempt from the possibility of a visit from ICE. Having a well-devised contingency plan is key.