The pattern of increased worksite enforcement by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit within the Department of Homeland Security shows no sign of slowing down. The latest in a series of audit “blitzes” was commenced last week when 1,000 employers from across the country were targeted to receive Form I-9 Notices of Inspection (NOIs), the letters that mark the start of an ICE I-9 audit.
In April 2009, ICE announced its new enforcement strategy focused on auditing and investigating employers that are suspected of cultivating illegal workplaces by knowingly employing illegal workers. There have been five major rounds of audits since that announcement: (1) more than 650 audits in June 2009; (2) more than 1,000 audits in November 2009; (3) 180 NOIs, which were issued in five southern states on March 2, 2010; (4) more than 500 audits in September 2010; and (5) the current blitz, with a reported 1,000 employers being notified of an I-9 audit. In total, ICE has initiated an estimated 4,800 audits since the beginning of FY 2009. (For a basic review of what to expect in the event of an I-9 audit, see the September 2010 issue of the Immigration eAuthority.)
The trend of increasing I-9 audits shows no signs of letting up. ICE has committed additional resources, announcing in January of this year the opening of an employment compliance inspection center in Virginia, which will house 15 auditors. With this increased capability, ICE expects to be able to expedite Form I-9 audits.
In light of the continuation of increased I-9 audits, prudent employers should consider taking some simple steps to reduce potential liability and the bad press that may follow a negative I-9 audit result. Reviewing I-9 policies, training persons responsible for I-9 completion, and conducting a self-audit of I-9 records (whether with knowledgeable internal staff or outside immigration counsel) are just a few of the steps an employer should consider. Completing these steps is likely to reduce potential fines and the chances of other sanctions being imposed should your company be the subject of an ICE I-9 audit.