ICE I-9 Audits are Increasing. Here’s How to Protect Your Business

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Office manager panicking because of piles of documentation

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency that enforces immigration laws, has reported earlier this year that it will be cracking down on I-9 audits and that it will follow through with necessary measures to remove unauthorized workers. At a December press conference in D.C., Tom Homan, deputy director of ICE, ordered a “400% increase in worksite operations.” He made it clear that not only will undocumented workers be dealt with, but also employers that knowingly hire them.

Recently, they reported serving more than 5,200 businesses since January. If we include investigations from October 2017 up until July 20th of this year, there have been 984 administrative worksite-related arrests and 675 criminal arrests out of a total of 6,093 audits. Prior to this, ICE investigations had reached their highest point in 2013, with 3,127 audits. This changed after the Obama administration focused efforts and resources more specifically on finding undocumented immigrants that had criminal records, rather than generally sweeping for all undocumented workers.

Why Does ICE Conduct These Audits?

According to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), these audits are not only to protect national security. They do strive first and foremost to protect Americans, but also undocumented workers. When violations are discovered, it is not only the workers that are penalized or arrested, but also some employers.

Protection from Identity Theft

Derek N. Benner, Acting Executive Associate Director of HSI, reported that “This is not a victimless crime; unauthorized workers often use stolen identities of legal U.S. workers.” Unsuspecting Americans have no idea that this has happened until their credit, medical records, or other assets are adversely affected.

Abusive Employers Degrading Public Safety

Unfortunately, it is common for employers to take advantage of vulnerable undocumented workers. Many violate workers’ rights and provide no compensation for injury. They do this because they know the workers aren’t likely to do anything due to fear of being found out and deported. Some employers also use coercion, threats, or even force to prevent these workers from reporting.

Employer and Worker Repeat Offenders Often Take Part in Additional Criminal Activity

The crimes are alien smuggling, alien harboring, document fraud, money laundering, and fraud.

To Protect Law-Abiding Companies

Some companies may only really be dominating their corner of the market because of their dependence upon an illegal workforce.

With all of this said, we do NOT want to make the impression that all undocumented workers are criminals. Also, not all employers that hire undocumented workers are out to price gouge the integrity of fair prices in their markets. Some people just want to help and are willing to take risks. (Yes, really!) Whatever the case, employers and workers must all follow immigration law as it stands and seek legal means for policy changes if they feel the need. If you are interested, we have an article here with more information regarding rights of undocumented workers and how they have also significantly benefited our community.

How Employers Can Protect Themselves When Hiring

If you own a business, you need to hire people.  Unfortunately, anyone from any walk of life can apply for one of your job positions, and if you are not careful, you could find yourself in trouble once you receive the notice from ICE that they want all of your I-9 forms in three days for an investigation. The following items can greatly improve your chance for an easy, breezy ICE encounter. Remember, monetary fines can be anywhere from $548 to $21,916 per EACH violation. Employers can even go to jail.

Establish a Systematic Hiring Process

A regular standard approach for hiring is one of the wisest moves than an employer can make to protect themselves from unknowingly putting their livelihood in danger and hiring someone that is not being honest (for whatever reason). The absolute worst approach that an employer can take is a lackadaisical approach where they take the applicant at their word without bothering to verify the applicant’s status. Many find themselves doing this due to high turnover, but the truth is that this is actually even more reason to be systematic because they are more at risk than others.

Don’t Just Pick Any Staff Agency

Some businesses prefer to forego the mess that often comes with hiring and simply outsource for workers. This is certainly a viable option, but understand that not all staffing agencies will maintain the same high standards as you. It’s very important to do your research.

For example, Aryzta’s Cloverhill, a major bakery that distributes nationwide, fell apart after ICE suddenly forced the removal of almost 800 workers. These employees were hired through the staffing agency that appears to be Labor Network, although people have been hush hush about revealing the name of the agency. This infarction caused them to lose major clients and now they are actually in the midst of possibly selling their company to Hostess. This is all because of the severe backup of orders and inability to meet the needs of their customers.

Don’t Get Too Relaxed

Oftentimes, in the name of efficiency to meet demanding deadlines, companies with high turnover can begin to lose touch with their commitment to upholding a systematic hiring process.

Surprisingly, the biggest settlement ever in history was ordered last September because of this exact reason. Asplundh Tree Experts of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania had to pay $97.6 million because their supervisors and general foremen just rapidly hired through word of mouth. There was no application process. Profit at all cost was the focus, and the company put high demands on its workers, such as readiness to relocate at a moment’s notice and they had to work in whatever weather conditions Asplundh required. These rather strict demands gave this company the edge that other businesses weren’t able to match, because these other companies aspired for higher ethical labor standards.  The audit took six years to finish.

Self Audit

Alongside these other items, the best way to ensure legal hiring practices is to conduct a periodic self audit with the help of an expert lawyer.  By doing this, you can rest assured that you are safe when ICE comes knocking. Remember that federal laws protect only basic rights, but states might add to rights that are already available. But, if federal law is more strict, then it will override a state law. If you haven’t conducted a self audit, the best time is now.  Head on over to find the right employment lawyer in your area.

https://money.cnn.com/2018/01/15/news/economy/ice-immigration-work-site-crackdown/index.htm
https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-worksite-enforcement-investigations-already-double-over-last-year
https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-delivers-more-5200-i-9-audit-notices-businesses-across-us-2-phase-nationwide
https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/asplundh-tree-experts-co-pays-largest-civil-settlement-agreement-ever-levied-ice
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