I-9 Compliance in a time of increased scrutiny
The raids on a hundred 7-Eleven stores nationwide serve as a reminder – the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are committed to their pledge to target businesses who employ illegal immigrants. The before-dawn raids netted 21 arrests and dramatic news coverage, putting employers on edge.
The raids have caused many employers with foreign national workers to ask – How can I make sure my business is I-9 compliant? The good news — most employers of I-9 workers have nothing to fear – these raids targeted a business currently under investigation for using stolen identities to their payrolls. Still, it is more important than ever for employers to make sure that their I-9 house is in order. If you help getting started, download our free I-9 Compliance Guide here.
The Trump Administration has stated on numerous occasions that it will increase focus on investigations of employer I-9 compliance as a part of its crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the United States. The Deputy Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement stated that he expects a “400% increase in work site operations” in 2018.
Unlike the 7-Eleven raids, most I-9 investigations are mundane in nature and consist of a document request of the company’s I-9 forms for review. ICE assesses fines for technical deficiencies and “paperwork” violations. These fines can range from $216 to $2,156 per mistake on each form. For small to mid-size companies these fines can reach into the tens of thousands to low hundred thousands. For larger companies the fines can reach into the millions. Additionally, in cases in which ICE believes an employer knowingly hired an unauthorized worker, criminal charges can be filed against employers and staff members involved in the hirings. This can also include, in extreme cases, employers who have “constructive knowledge” of illegal hirings because they did not implement sound I-9 policies and practices. Convictions for illegal hiring of unauthorized workers can result in civil fines and imprisonment.
To make sure your company’s I-9 forms are in good order, FordMurray recommends you take the following steps:
- Conduct an internal audit to assess the current state of your I-9 program compliance.
- If your audit reveals good compliance, implement a policy for annual internal audits of your files and annual training of existing and new I-9 preparers at your organization.
- If your audit reveals inadequacies in I-9 compliance, take immediate steps to improve and correct the existing I-9s. Many technical errors can be corrected and these corrective steps can lower exposure to fines and penalties.
- If you do decide to undertake corrective steps, you must be sure that the corrections are done properly and do not compound existing errors. It may be wise to engage legal counsel to make sure corrections are done properly.
- If your company decides to re-haul its I-9 program, engaging qualified counsel to provide clear training and proper policies and procedures can help to ensure good compliance into the future.
Michael J. Murray is President/Founder of FordMurray, a national business immigration law firm in Portland. For questions about I-9 compliance or another business immigration concern, contact FordMurray Law today.