The revised enforcement approach by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has been in effect since July 2009–the same month John Morton, assistant secretary of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, announced a change in strategy with a focus on employers.

This revised strategy includes utilizing Notices of Inspection (NOIs), which allows ICE to inspect immigration documentation, including I-9s. This shift in strategy echoes the words of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who in January of 2009 stated, “DHS needs to focus more on employers who hire illegal workers instead of focusing on the illegal immigrants themselves. … You really have to look at the demand side for illegal labor and go after the employers as strongly and as effectively as you can.”

Since this announcement, more than 2,500 employers have received Notices of Inspection and had their paperwork audited. From these audits, over $35.7 million in fines and penalties have been levied against employers–a 55% increase over the previous year. In addition, 187 company managers and owners have been arrested for charges, such as knowingly hiring illegal workers.

The climate for employers has shifted. Employers must know who is working for them and whether the paperwork is completed correctly. As such, an employer can no longer assume all employees are legal and that the paperwork is correct. Assistant Secretary Morton’s goal of creating a “culture of compliance” through audits has changed the game for employers whether or not they hire illegal workers. Companies from El Paso, Texas, to Bangor, Maine, are subject to the same requirements.

Brenda J. Smith, J.D., is the founder and managing partner of the Brenda J. Smith Company, a legal consulting firm specializing in creating immigration compliance programs for companies. The article above is an excerpt from her article on immigrant hiring and the full article can be accessed at her blog page.