Thursday, February 24, 2011

ICE turning up the heat

Last week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") announced a new initiative targeting over 1000 employers in all 50 states.  This initiative will include site visits for document inspections.  According to ICE, "the inspections will touch on employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation — no one industry is being targeted nor is any one industry immune from scrutiny".  Essentially, this means that ICE is stepping up its efforts to audit employers.  Any company is potentially subject to being audited. 

Over the past few years there has been a shift from seeking to punish undocumented workers to the pursuit of employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers or who fail to comply with immigration laws.  This trend began with employer audits in July 2009, when ICE announced more than 650 firms were being investigated. Another 1,000 notices were issued in November 2009, with 200 more in March and an additional 500 notices of inspection in September 2010.

A concern for employers should be ensuring the form I-9 is properly completed each time it hires a new worker.  The I-9 form is used to verify that a worker is authorized to work in the U.S. and is to be completed within three days of initial hire.

If an employer fails to properly complete an I-9 or does not retain I-9s for all employees, it can be subject to ICE enforcement. Civil fines for violations range from $100 to $1,100 for each violation, and fines for substantive violations - employing an unauthorized worker - range from $375 to $16,000.

In line with the previous blog posting, conducting a self-audit to identity and correct any violations is the best way to avert violations.  If your company is contacted by ICE, you should contact counsel immediately.

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