Consistent with the current upward trend in investigations by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in recent weeks at least 500 employers nationwide have been ordered to submit their I-9 employment eligibility forms and other documents for inspection. Although there has not been a public announcement, it appears that ICE is conducting a new round of audits as part of the Administration’s continued crackdown on employers that hire illegal immigrants, and the number of companies inspected this year is expected to increase. Administrative audits, which not only can lead to significant fines and penalties, but also criminal charges against a company and its officers and directors, continue to be ICE’s enforcement mechanism of choice. As a result, employers should continue to expect these surges in audits several times a year.
Most recently, on May 1, 2012, a Washington state organic herb farm pleaded guilty to felony offenses and was sentenced to $1 million in criminal fines and five years’ probation for harboring, concealing and shielding an illegal immigrant, and encouraging and inducing an illegal immigrant to reside in the United States. In addition, three top company executives each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense and each was sentenced to one year’s probation for aiding and abetting a pattern or practice of employing illegal immigrants.
According to court documents, the company rehired illegal immigrants after informing ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that the farm had laid off all of its undocumented workers following an HSI audit of the company’s I-9 forms which brought to light significant discrepancies. The company almost immediately rehired as many as 25 of those workers for a secret night shift and paid them in cash to hide their employment and conceal the crime from law enforcement.