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Employers Beware: With new round of audits, ICE seeks to chill illegal hiring

On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, the Department of Homeland Security launched a wide-scale audit of employers’ hiring records to assess compliance with employment eligibility verification laws. For the second time this year, Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) Office delivered Notices of Inspection to 1,000 employers advising that ICE will audit those employers’ I-9 Forms. In addition, as part of the audits, ICE will also review employers’ payroll records, lists of employees and former employees, articles of incorporation, and other employment-related documents.

In announcing this latest round of audits, ICE indicated that it is “targeting” certain industries that have a role in the nation’s “critical infrastructure and key resources.” These industries include food production, information technology, health care, transportation, financial services and construction. The inspections are not limited to large employer, but according to ICE will target “employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation.”

With its on-going focus on enforcement inspections, the Obama Administration has made clear that employer compliance is a key element of its immigration enforcement strategy. So, what does this mean for employers?

Now is the time to audit the company’s I-9 forms, evaluate compliance, and take appropriate steps to correct errors in the forms.

A short one page form, the I-9 is seemingly simple to complete. But don’t be fooled, it is surprising easy for both employees and employers to make inadvertent mistakes in completing the I-9 form. Frequent errors, which ICE considers “technical violations” that could result in fines, include missing employee signatures, missing dates, and employee verification information entered incorrectly on the form.

Employers should take the following steps now:

  • Conduct an internal audit of I-9 forms;
  • Take appropriate corrective measures where I-9 errors are discovered and, if necessary, seek legal assistance to ensure that corrections are completed accurately;
  • Implement a compliance program to ensure that I-9 forms are handled correctly going forward.
  • Contact counsel if you have received a Notice of Inspection to ensure that your company is responding appropriately.

Don’t wait for ICE to chill your summer. Take steps now to ensure that your company is prepared for an audit if ICE knocks on the door.