U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stepped up its efforts to raid U.S. employers who hire undocumented workers. The results of these raids can be potential criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers in addition to prosecution of the workers themselves as well as bad media coverage.
However, ICE is also promoting a decades old program to be more proactive with employers before they get in trouble for hiring undocumented workers. That initiative is called the Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers program, also known as IMAGE. The program was started in July 2006 to “combat unlawful employment and reduce vulnerabilities that help illegal aliens gain such employment.” The program brings ICE and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) together to offer training programs on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, and the use of E-Verify, an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to data from the U.S Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.
The IMAGE program offers a formal membership certification program for employers. Among the items that employers seeking certification in IMAGE must agree to are:
- completing a self-assessment questionnaire that serves as an application;
- establishing a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy that includes an internal Form I-9 audit at least once a year;
- submitting to a Form I-9 Inspection; and
- enrolling in E-Verify.
ICE offers these employers the opportunity to “serve as an example and role model in the business community while highlighting the importance and viability of immigration compliance.” It also agrees to waive or reduce potential fines if employers are found to have hired undocumented workers. ICE also agrees not to not conduct an I-9 audit for two years, unless there is credible information that the employer is engaged in employing unauthorized workers.
ICE said that as of last fall, there were 114 charter members, four endorsees (associations who promote IMAGE requirements to their members), 287 certified members (certified after 2011); and 183 companies who have signed agreements and are in the process of becoming certified members.
States like California have been proactive in protecting undocumented workers as ICE has increased raids on employers.California implemented a new law in January that prevents federal immigration agents from entering employer premises without a warrant. The law also prevents employers from having to produce I-9 forms and employee records without ICE providing a court order.
Employers interested in the IMAGE program should first determine if they have hired undocumented workers and if joining the ICE IMAGE program would mitigate any potential fines. The should also carefully review their state laws to ensure that the IMAGE program requirements they must meet are consistent with state regulations.