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Potential Penalties for Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

The hiring of undocumented immigrants, whether purposeful or not, is illegal. The I-9 process was implemented in 1986 to help combat this practice and to provide protections to both US workers and lawfully authorized non-US workers. However, over time, the “bite” of the I-9 audit has dissipated as the government focused less on this issue and had fewer resources to devote to this issue. But with the Trump Administration’s increased scrutiny on immigration as part of its “Buy American, Hire American” platform, the workplace has now become one of the key battlefronts in the enforcement of immigration policy.

I-9 Compliance and ICE

There are very serious risks and potential penalties for any employer that knowingly hires undocumented immigrants. The key word in that last sentence, however, is “knowingly.” As an employer, it is your responsibility to put forth a good faith effort to ensure anyone you hire is authorized to work in the US through proper I-9 compliance, but you are not required to be a document expert or special investigator for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In fact, you could even get into trouble for discriminatory hiring practices if you are overzealous in trying to discover if a potential employee is authorized to work in the US.

If you follow all legally mandated hiring procedures and you unknowingly hire an undocumented immigrant, you will likely be safe from any serious penalties. Nonetheless, it is important for any employers to maintain I-9 records in a way that ensures compliance at all times and protect your company from costly and damaging immigration hiring mistakes. FordMurray offers complimentary consultations and flat fee I-9 compliance audits and training programs for employers.

What if you hired an undocumented worker?

If you are found to have knowingly or negligently hired undocumented employees to work for your company, you could face severe civil and criminal penalties. You are also at risk if you discover that an employee is not authorized to work in the US and you continue their employment. First offenders face civil fines ranging from $375 to $3,200 per illegal worker.

Becoming a multiple-offender severely compounds the potential penalties. A second-time offender will be fined between $3,200 and $6,500 per worker, while a third offense will cost you between $4,300 and $16,000 per worker.

Additionally, knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants on more than one occasion may demonstrate a pattern of illicit hiring activity that puts you at risk for criminal penalties. If you engage in a pattern of hiring undocumented immigrants, you could face criminal fines of up to $3,000 per unauthorized worker and up to 6 months in jail.

Worse yet, if you actively engage in shielding undocumented immigrants from ICE, you could be found guilty of “harboring,” which can result in up to 10 years in prison. Employers can also be held responsible if they utilize contractors who hire undocumented immigrants.

How do I legally hire an undocumented worker?

There are no legal avenues for hiring an undocumented worker currently in the United States. While it is possible to sponsor an employee for permanent resident status, or a “Green Card,” the process requires planning – for example, you must show evidence you were unable to hire an American worker for the position as well as consider potential waiver options for the individual to overcome their undocumented status. The worker must be in legal status or outside of the country.

There are extremely serious risks and potential penalties associated with hiring undocumented workers. Contact FordMurray today and let us help you with all your business immigration needs, and help ensure that your company is protected from the hazards of immigration and hiring noncompliance. We offer complimentary consultations – submit your request here.