The spotlight on worksite enforcement and employment authorization derives from the Trump administration’s multipronged strategy to stifle unauthorized immigration. In 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signaled it would significantly step up audits and raids on employers to identify undocumented workers and those who hire them.
The Numbers Speak for Themselves
ICE has stayed true to its promise; it has already opened more worksite investigations seven months into fiscal year (FY) 2018 than the agency completed in all of FY 2017. Since October 2017, which marked the start of FY 2018, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has opened 3,510 worksite investigations, initiated 2,282 I-9 audits, and made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests. That’s up from 1,716 investigations, 1,360 I-9 audits, 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests the previous fiscal year. That’s a 104% increase in investigations, 68% increase in I-9 audits, 327% increase in criminal arrests and a 255% increase in administrative arrests.
No Stone Left Unturned
The coming months show no break to employers in the number of I-9 audits that ICE is planning. In fact, ICE plans to surge I-9 audits this summer and, according to Derek Benner, acting head of ICE’s HSI division, the agency will be targeting companies of all sizes and assessing major penalties to employers.
Benner announced this past spring: “It’s not going to be limited to large companies or any particular industry – big, medium and small.” Benner also stated: “We need to make sure that employers are on notice that we are going to come out and ensure that they’re being compliant. For those that don’t, we’re going to take some very aggressive steps in terms of criminal investigations to make sure that we address them and hold them accountable.”
Fines May Result in Dollar Shock
In addition to targeting companies of all sizes, the administration is using “dollar shock” to scare employers. ICE recently announced the largest payment ever in an immigration or I-9 Form investigation – a whopping $95 million was paid to settle criminal and civil charges by a Pennsylvania tree company who employed undocumented workers. Even in less serious violations, ICE has been hitting employers I-9 paperwork violations; which can now be as high as $2,191 per form.
Three Steps to Ensure Compliance
What this means is employers need to be more vigilant than ever to confirm they are hiring workers who are authorized to legally work in the U.S. and have accurate documentation to prove it. Those involved in hiring and the human resources function must ensure that appropriate actions have been taken to avoid potential fines or even criminal charges. Some of the actions we recommend taking to ensure compliance are as follows:
1. Develop and Implement Policies
If your organization does not have an Immigration Policy or Proof of Authorization to Works Policy in place, one should be implemented. The policy should be unambiguous, establish your dedication to immigration compliance, and support your organization’s practices.
2. Audit I-9 Forms
The foundation of an immigration compliance program is the I-9 Form, which all employers must complete and ask of new hires complete. The forms are used to verify identity and authorization of individuals to work in the U.S. – regardless of immigration status. It is recommended that forms are audited periodically, but especially after a period of high-volume hiring. Taking this precaution will identify whether problems exist. The forms should be completed fully; with one for each employee, and the information contained in the I-9 must be valid and current.
Auditing I-9 Forms offers a proactive opportunity to make corrections, add incomplete information and update authorizations, before ICE agents show up.
3. Train and Educate
The number one reason why mistakes are made on an I-9 Form is lack of understanding of the guidelines. Employers need to make sure the individuals responsible for I-9 compliance understand the employer’s policy and are well-trained in the guidelines. Further, managers and those responsible for hiring should understand the importance of authorizing an employee or candidate’s proof of work.
The bottom line: 2018 is not the year to leave your I-9, E-Verify and immigration compliance up to chance. If your organization does not have the time or resources to address these issues, you should consider engaging a third party to assist. Addressing these issues internally before ICE comes knocking on your door could potentially save your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For additional resources on I-9 compliance or information on the services Sikich HR Consulting provides, please contact us.