Employers Be Aware: I-9 Audits on the Rise

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The past years have seen a steady increase in enforcing employment verification in workplaces with the rise of I-9 audits and workplace raids. More recently, a La Jolla, California bakery, along with its owner and manager, were sentenced in federal court in December 2011 on charges stemming from a four-year probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that the business hired illegal alien workers. U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan ordered the firm to forfeit $109,200 in illicit proceeds gained from the illegal hiring practices and pay $277,375 for its felony conviction of employing more than 10 illegal alien workers in a 12-month period.

In another round of I-9 audits, a manager at a specialty pallet and box manufacturing company in northwest Detroit was arrested by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on criminal charges of knowingly accepting false documentation in the course of hiring undocumented workers. According to the court documents, after ICE HSI notified the company about the suspicious documents, the company sent a written reply advising the employees in question had been terminated. Subsequently, investigators conducting surveillance of the premises, observed several of the “terminated” employees continuing to work at the company. Additionally, through the use confidential informants, ICE HSI special agents recorded the manager in the process of hiring two individuals who admitted their documents were counterfeit and had been purchased. The manager is expected to make an initial appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon. The charges carry a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

In fiscal year 2011, ICE criminally charged a record-breaking 221 owners, employers, managers and/or supervisors – up from 196 in fiscal year 2010. In addition, during fiscal year 2011, ICE HSI initiated audits involving 2,496 employers nationwide – surpassing the record number conducted in all of fiscal year 2010. That figure includes 83 businesses in the San Diego area. Likewise in fiscal year 2011, ICE issued 385 final fine notices totaling more than $10 million to employers across the country, again surpassing the record fine total in fiscal year 2010.

Nationally in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, ICE:

  • Conducted 2,496 I-9 audits, up from 503 in FY 2008;
  • Initiated 3,291 worksite enforcement cases, up from 1,191 in FY 2008;
  • Criminally arrested 221 employers, up from 135 in FY 2008;
  • Issued 385 Final Orders for $10,463,987 in fines, up from 18 Final Orders for $675,209 in fines in FY 2008;
  • Debarred 115 individuals and 97 businesses, compared to 0 individuals and 0 businesses in FY 2008

The New Year sees fresh resolve on part of ICE to minimize illegal immigrant from seeking employment in the country. Fresh rounds of I-9 audits are expected. Employers need to have streamlined their practice of filling and maintaining I-9 forms as well as follow non-discriminatory procedures while doing so.

Disclaimer: The content of this post does not constitute direct legal advice and is designed for informational purposes only. Any issues regarding compliance and obligations under United States or International laws or regulations should be addressed through your legal department or outside counsel.

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