On November 4, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that seven major employers in the U.S. joined IMAGE, the agency’s voluntary employment compliance program. These newly joined employers include Best Western International, Chick-fil-A, Inc., Hyatt, Kelly Services, Lexmark, Smoothie King and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.
Here is a complete list of IMAGE partners.
IMAGE stands for “ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers,” created to promote voluntary compliance and help companies ensure they are maintaining a lawful workforce.
To participate in IMAGE, companies volunteer to enroll in E-Verify, to follow written hiring policies that enforce I-9 compliance, and to engage in annual self-audits. Furthermore, IMAGE companies agree to submit to an ICE audit of their I-9 employment eligibility forms. In return, ICE agrees to:
- Waive potential fines if substantive violations are discovered on fewer than 50 percent of the required Forms I-9.
- In instances where more than 50 percent of the Forms I-9 contain substantive violations, ICE will mitigate fines or issue fines at the statutory minimum of $110 per violation.
- ICE will not conduct another Form I-9 inspection of the company for a two-year period.
- ICE will provide information and training before, during and after inspection.
According to the ICE website, the idea behind the IMAGE program is for employers “to place an emphasis on self-policing in a company’s hiring practices. By following the prescribed steps of IMAGE, a company could lessen the likelihood of being found in violation of employment laws. IMAGE participation may be considered a mitigating factor in the determination of civil penalty (fine) amounts should they be levied. In addition, IMAGE membership can enhance your corporate image by associating your company with sound hiring practices, and helps to secure the homeland by reducing opportunities to inadvertently hire unauthorized workers.”
Clearly, participating in the IMAGE program is a significant commitment that carries real ongoing costs (annual internal audits, training) and potential costs (Form I-9 fines). While ICE has made an effort to “soften” the risk of being fined based on the Form I-9 inspection result, the fact that IMAGE is not offered as a safe harbor is one of the primary reasons employers are reluctant to participate in the program. For all of these reason, employers should consult with legal counsel before making a decision to enroll.
In light of some of the most recent ICE worksite enforcement statistics announced in October (see below), now more than ever employers should consider strengthening their corporate employment eligibility verification compliance program.
In FY 2011, ICE:
- Conducted 2,496 I-9 audits, up from 503 in FY 2008
- Initiated 3,291 worksite enforcement cases, up from 1,191 in FY 2008
- Criminally arrested 221 employers, up from 135 in FY 2008
- Issued 385 Final Orders for $10,463,987 in fines, up from 18 Final Orders for $675,209 in fines in FY 2008
- Debarred 115 individuals and 97 businesses, compared to zero debarments in FY 2008
For more information on the IMAGE program, please visit: http://www.ice.gov/image/faqs.htm.
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 never replace the need for involving informed counsel on your employment and immigration issues.