This summer, expect more ICE, not less. That’s “ICE” as in Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security agency formed in 2002 to enforce federal immigration, trade, and border control laws.
Under the Trump administration, ICE has significantly expanded in terms of scope and authority: the numbers of investigations, arrests, and deportations related to illegal immigration have spiked in 2017 and 2018, generating furor and impassioned political debate across the country.
Regardless of their views on immigration, every employer should be thinking about ICE right now. According to a report from the Associated Press, the agency is planning a “surge” of Form I-9 audits this summer. Since January, ICE has conducted more than 3,500 worksite investigations into organizations suspected of employing individuals who are in the U.S. illegally. Acting Executive Associate Director Derek Benner told AP another planned nationwide wave of I-9 audits “would push the total ‘well over’ 5,000 by Sept 30.”
That’s only a fraction of what could come next:
“The agency has developed a plan to open as many as 15,000 audits a year, subject to funding and support for the plan from other areas of the administration, Benner said.
The proposal calls for the creation of an Employer Compliance Inspection Center to perform employer audits at a single location instead of at regional offices around the country, Benner said. Electronically scanning the documents will help flag suspicious activity, and the most egregious cases will be farmed out to regional offices for more investigation. Audit notices will be served electronically or by certified mail, instead of in person.”
A recent Society for Human Resource Management article explores the surge in greater depth. Speaking with a couple leading immigration attorneys, SHRM advises employers to “be prepared for a new normal,” and to recognize that it’s not just the number of audits increasing, but the potential impact of those audits:
“ICE recently changed the way it calculates civil penalties to increase the fines imposed for I-9 violations. In 2017, employers were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines.
‘Unauthorized employees who are not legally in the U.S. may be detained and, ultimately, deported,’ [Jackson Lewis attorney Michael H.] Neifach said. ‘Given the government’s focus on worksite inspections, preparing for possible inspections by auditing your employment verification processes and records is an essential precaution.’”