Making good on President Trump’s key campaign promise, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has literally redoubled its efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
The agency announced earlier this month that its enforcement investigations in the last seven months have already doubled last year’s total—and it looks like more will come this summer.
From Oct. 1, 2017, through May 4, 2018, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) unit opened 3,510 worksite investigations; initiated 2,282 I-9 audits; and made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests, respectively. The I-9 audits target employers’ recordkeeping and adherence to paperwork rules.
In comparison, for fiscal year 2017—running 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.
Officials also reported another nationwide wave of audits is planned this summer and they believe that will push the total well over 5,000 by Sept. 30.
“Our worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law, and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law,” says Derek Benner, HIS acting executive associate director, adding that “HSI’s worksite enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor and other illegal practices.”
Federal law requires employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals they hire, and to document that information using the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. ICE said it relies on the I-9 inspection program to promote compliance with the law, part of a comprehensive strategy to address and deter illegal employment.
“Inspections are one of the most powerful tools the federal government uses to ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws,” ICE contends. In the past, enforcement efforts were frequently criticized for ignoring a major cause of illegal immigration by targeting workers instead of their employers. ICE under Trump claims it is reversing that dichotomy.
While other federal agencies are feeling the heat from budget cuts and curtailed activity, ICE is getting the money and resources it needs to investigate and prosecute immigration violations.
In October 2017 Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, declared that his agency would quadruple the kinds of worksite enforcement investigations.
A notice of inspection alerts business owners that ICE is going to audit their hiring records to determine whether they are complying with existing law. Employers are required to produce their company’s I-9s within three business days, after which ICE will conduct an inspection for compliance.
If employers are not in compliance with the law, an I-9 inspection of their business will likely result in civil fines and could lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution if they are knowingly violating the law. All workers encountered during these investigations who are unauthorized to remain in the United States are subject to administrative arrest and removal from the country.
Failure to follow the law can result in criminal and civil penalties. In FY17, businesses were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines, including one company whose financial penalties represented the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.
“Employers need to understand that the integrity of their employment records is just as important to the federal government as the integrity of their tax files and banking records. All industries, regardless of size, location and type, are expected to comply with the law,” Benner says. “Worksite enforcement protects jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminates unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.”
According to ICE, the HSI worksite enforcement strategy includes leveraging the agency’s other investigative disciplines, since worksite investigations can often involve additional criminal activity, such as alien smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, document fraud, worker exploitation and/or substandard wage and working conditions.
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.
For a fuller description of the I-9 programs and how employers can protect themselves when ICE agents come calling, refer to the article, “What an Employer Should Do When Immigration Officers Raid Your Business.” One thing to keep in mind is that employers who use the E-Verify program can find themselves much better prepared when find ICE agents come knocking at their door.