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Under federal law, employers are required to verify the identity and employment of every individual hired and to document that information using Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9.  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has recently pledged to quadruple the frequency of workplace audits and raids on employers to target 1) employers who fail to ensure that each of its employees are legally authorized to work in the United States, and 2) the unauthorized employees themselves.

On January 10, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) issued the following formal three-prong approach to worksite enforcement:

  1. Compliance – conducting I-9 inspections and issuing civil fines and referrals for debarment;
  2. Enforcement – arresting employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers and unauthorized workers; and
  3. Outreach – instilling a culture of compliance and accountability through the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program.[1]

In conducting a worksite investigation, ICE will look for evidence of mistreatment of workers, trafficking, smuggling, harboring, visa fraud, identification document fraud, money laundering, and other criminal conduct.  Depending on the extent of culpability and cooperation of the employer, ICE will issue civil and criminal penalties and fines to the employer for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ an unauthorized worker.  Additionally, ICE will issue fines for technical violations such as incorrectly completing the I-9 Form.

Indeed, ICE has already begun implementing its new focus on worksite enforcement.  Recently, ICE raided 98 7‑Eleven franchise stores across the country, which resulted in the arrest of nine franchise owners and managers for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, use of stolen identities, and concealing and harboring employees who were in the country illegally.[2]  Twenty-one people suspected of working in the United States without proper authorization were also arrested as a result of the raid on 7-Eleven franchises.

In light of the administration’s plans to increase workplace audits and raids by 400%, employers should regularly conduct internal I-9 audits to assess overall compliance and correct any errors prior to a formal investigation by ICE.  Notably, effective January 1, 2018, employers in California are prohibited from re-verifying an incumbent employee’s eligibility to work unless specifically required by federal statutory law.[3]  A violation of this new regulation could result in a penalty of up to $10,000 for the employer.[4]

U.S. Immigration Law Group, LLP can assist companies in ensuring their I-9 forms and procedures are in compliance prior to an ICE audit.  Additionally, our firm is available to provide comprehensive training on I-9 compliance and how to prepare for an ICE visit or inspection to supervisors and HR personnel.   Should you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation with our firm, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (714) 494-4545.

[1] https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/worksite-enforcement-targets-employment-law-violators

[2] http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-7-eleven-probe-20180110-story.html#share=email~story

[3] California Labor Code § 1019.2(a)

[4] Id.

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