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Immigration Authorities Have Substantially Stepped Up I-9 Compliance Audits

1370556_32170671-1.jpgU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased the number of employment audits over the past five years, performing more audits in fiscal year 2012 than any other year in the agency’s history. The amount of fines collected by ICE has also risen, along with the number of company owners or managers arrested for immigration violations. The Obama administration’s immigration policy has put a particular emphasis on investigating businesses for immigration employment violations, with the goal of deterring employment of immigrants who lack work authorization and penalizing companies that that violate federal law.

Business Record Requirements

All employers must maintain records of their employees’ authorization to work in the U.S. Federal authorities have established strict criteria for Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form. Current employees and new hires must provide supporting documentation demonstrating their identity and their work authorization. Penalties for failure to keep adequate and accurate records, even in the absence of unauthorized employees, can lead to fines and other penalties.

Increases in Audits and Enforcement

According to the Associated Press, ICE performed a total of 250 I-9 audits around the country in fiscal year 2007. During fiscal year 2012, the agency conducted over three thousand audits. The total amount of fines assessed by ICE against employers for violations discovered during these audits rose from about $1 million in fiscal year 2009 to almost $13 million in 2012. ICE reportedly arrested 238 managers last fiscal year for alleged immigration employment violations.

ICE typically initiates an audit by serving an employer with a Notice of Inspection, giving the employer three days to produce its I-9 records and payroll information. When ICE inspectors identify violations, the business has ten business days to correct the issue before ICE assesses a penalty. ICE also provides the company with a written report of violations and discrepancies found in the audit.

Penalties and Arrests

In addition to penalties for employing unauthorized individuals, ICE has the authority to fine businesses that do not keep adequate I-9 records. Penalties for knowingly employing an unauthorized person, engaging in document fraud, or discriminating against an authorized person in favor of an unauthorized one can bring penalties ranging from $375 to $3,200 per employee for a first offense. A mere failure to maintain adequate I-9 records can result in a fine of $110 to $1,100 per incorrect form. Business owners or managers who routinely employ or recruit unauthorized immigrants may face criminal penalties, including a $3,000 fine per worker and up to six months in prison.

The Rant

The I-9 documentation requirements make business owners, managers, and human resource directors responsible for verifying the accuracy of a wide range of government documents, including passports, visas, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates. Federal immigration law only requires employers to make a reasonable effort to verify the documents’ authenticity, but opinions may vary as to what appears authentic on its face, and what degree of inspection may be considered “reasonable.” The assistance of experienced professionals is critical to fulfilling this legal responsibility, as our immigration attorneys are knowledgable and efficient at helping companies review their I-9 files to get in compliance before ICE shows up.

More Blog Posts:

New Guidance on the Electronic Storage of Immigration Employment Verification Records, ImmigRantings, November 18, 2012
Business Immigration, ImmigRantings, May 14, 2012
Self-Check: The Toolkit Every Worker Should Use, ImmigRantings, March 26, 2012
Photo credit: Ayla87 on stock.xchng.