The recent announcement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should have gotten the attention of employers. It illustrates how seriously ICE is in carrying out its commitment to increase the number of I-9 audits in an effort to create a culture of compliance among employers.
In a press release issued last week, ICE shared the results of Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) two-part nationwide operation initiated this year.
- The two-part operation occurred during the periods of January 29 through March 30, in which HSI issued 2,540 notice of inspections (NOIs) to employers, and July 16 through July 20, in which 2,738 NOIs were issued, a total of 5,200 NOIs. During those two time periods, HSI made 93 arrests.
- Investigations have increased significantly in 2018 compared to last year. From Oct. 1, 2017, through July 20, 2018, HSI said it opened 6,093 worksite investigations and made 675 criminal and 984 administrative worksite-related arrests. In fiscal year 2017 – October 2016 to September 2017 – HSI opened 1,716 worksite investigations; initiated 1,360 I-9 audits; and made 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests related to worksite enforcement.
Expect to see HSI continue to expand its I-9 audits of employers. Despite recent political turmoil calling into question the morality of ICE’s efforts, ICE says the initiative behind the escalating raids is to protect American workers. Derek N. Benner, Acting Associate Director for HSI stated, “This is not a victimless crime… Unauthorized workers often use stolen identities of legal U.S. workers, which can significantly impact the identity theft victim’s credit, medical records and other aspects of their everyday life.”
Employers are required by federal law to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals they decide to hire. Failure to abide by the law can result in criminal, civil, and other penalties. For the 2017 FY, over $97.6 million was paid in judicial forfeitures, fines, and restitution, including $7.8 million in civil fines.
HSI uses a three-pronged approach to worksite enforcement:
- compliance, from I-9 inspections, civil fines, and referrals for debarment;
- enforcement, through the criminal arrest of employers and administrative arrest of unauthorized workers;
- outreach, through the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE program, to instill a culture of compliance and accountability.
Employers should be sure their organizations are actively working to improve compliance with immigration laws. In the event you receive an NOI, here are some steps to take:
- Respond to the notice. Employers have three days to respond unless an extension has been requested.
- Make sure all appropriate management and executives are informed of the NOI and that consistent practices are taken across your organization.
- Review your employee list and documentation that reinforces that employees are eligible to be working in the U.S. and their identity can be proven.
- If your organization is using an electronic I-9 system, review USCIS requirements to be sure you are complying with the requirements
- Familiarize yourself with the ICE I-9 inspection process and the documents that ICE typically requests in an NOI. You will want to make sure the documents are readily available. For instance, sometimes the ICE representation may ask for the I-9 forms for both the current and terminated employees. Using a cloud-based system like Humanefits to electronically store I-9 documents can be an asset when trying to collect the information ICE may request in a timely manner.
As ICE continues to ramp up enforcement, employers should be sure their internal compliance processes will be adequate to help handle an ICE inspection. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have dodged an audit, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one coming. Take proactive measures now to be prepared for when the government comes knocking.