Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton revealed that in fiscal year 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcement numbers climbed to historic high numbers. This surge included a 500% increase in penalties from worksite enforcement actions, a nearly two-fold increase in I-9 audits (2,200), a record-breaking 180 criminal prosecutions of employers and the debarring of more than 97 businesses (compared to 30 last FY). Average fines exceeded $110,000.
ICE Director John Morton said that enforcing worksite laws not only promotes fairness in the workplace, but it also substantially reduces the incentive for aliens to enter the United States illegally.
“We will continue to enforce the law in a firm, sensible manner,” said Morton. “And we will do it based on a rational set of priorities–priorities that focus on criminals, unscrupulous employers and those who game the system–priorities that promote public safety, border security and the integrity of our immigration system.”
So, why is this important?
Well, with the current economic climate and views on immigration, these statistics are the clearest example of what people are calling the Obama administration’s “quiet immigration raid” policy. Instead of the high-profile immigration raids of years past, ICE has been focusing less on rounding up illegal workers and more on targeting unscrupulous employers through the use of Form I-9 audits and investigations of their hiring practices.
As we previously reported, ICE released a worksite enforcement memo which details the most common reasons why a company might receive an audit, as well as who can be targeted. Frequently, ICE investigates companies based upon an employee or public whistleblower complaint.
Employers located in nuclear power facilities, airports and surrounding companies, and companies located in landmark buildings are also going to be targeted. ICE will also pursue high turnover industries, such as retail and food service. Lastly, it’s now possible that the audit happened completely by chance – perhaps simply because of where your company is located.
So how can you best prepare for a potential ICE audit?
First, companies should consider conducting a preemptive internal audit to get your I-9 house in order.Then analyze your results, initiate targeted training, and standardize your I-9 practices and procedures.
As you will probably find out, the paper Form I-9 process is error-prone and hard to centralize. Therefore, after conducting the internal audit you will want to implement a trustworthy electronic management system to keep track of all the I-9 documents, deadlines, and work visa reverification requirements.
These steps are especially important for companies that have a large number of employees, high turnover rates, and/or multiple worksites. Of course, employers should always consider the need for involving informed counsel on your employment and immigration issues.
Disclaimer: The content of this post does not constitute direct legal advice and is designed for informational purposes only. Information provided through this website should not act upon it without consulting legal counsel as individual situations and facts may vary.