I-9 audits have seen a rapid increase in number along the years with audits scaling from next to none in 2004 to over 3000 in 2012.Employers should pay attention accordingly, as the fines for substantive and procedural violations of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) can add up quickly, Daniel Brown, an attorney with Fragomen in Washington, D.C., said on March 12, 2013, at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2013 Employment Law & Legislative Conference.

For knowing violations, IRCA penalties range from:

*$375-$3,200 for each unauthorized employee for a first offense.

*$3,200-$6,500 per unauthorized worker for a second offense.

*$4,300-$16,000 per worker for a third offense.

For paperwork violations, the fines range from $110 to $1,100 per violation.

When the government assesses penalties, the biggest factor it examines is the percentage of reviewed I-9 forms that have errors, said Brown, who is a former counselor to the assistant secretary at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If more than 50 percent have paperwork violations, for example, the paperwork fines typically are $900 per I-9, which may be adjusted up or down, he added.

I-9 audits used to be random, but now they are more often the result of disgruntled former employees complaining to ICE.

Also, ICE likes to go after companies connected with the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as those that run power plants, food-service businesses, those connected to airports, or anything else that seems like “homeland security writ large,” Brown said.