Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for conducting Form I-9 audits. Over the past few years, the number of ICE Audits has increased substantially. During the Bush Administration, ICE was conducting roughly 400 audits per year. Under the Obama Administration, that number increased to nearly 2,500. In 2018, under the Trump Administration, ICE audits more than doubled. As the country continues to tighten its belt on immigration, this number is expected to continue to exponentially rise.
The newfound increase in ICE Audits has been attributed to President Trump’s 2017 ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order. Trump was quoted saying, ‘I want the government to look at our employment-based immigration practices, look at the laws, look at the regulations, look at the policies, see where we can tighten things up a little bit more, so we are protecting U.S. workers.”
This “belt-tightening” starts with the I-9.
The I-9 is the go-to document that verifies the identity and employment authorization for workers in the United States. The form must be filled out for both US and non-US citizens and completed by both the employee and the employer. In recent years, the government has chosen to ramp up efforts to not only uncover cases of employment of undocumented workers but also identify those who improperly fill out the form.
So what does that mean for you, the employer?
In a nutshell, it means that you should take the possibility of an ICE audit seriously and be prepared.
Here are a few ways to avoid your chances of experiencing an ICE Audit, and being better prepared if one were to occur:
- Conduct Your Own “Internal Audit” – review I-9 forms for all employees, including current and recently terminated, ensuring that they are up-to-date and populated correctly.
- Identify Your Immigration Attorney – in the event that an audit were to occur, your first call should be to your immigration attorney, so that you can be properly instructed as to how best maneuver through the process. It is thus important that you have an established relationship with this person beforehand. S/he can also alert you to potential red flags that your particular company may exhibit.
- File Company I-9s Properly – if an ICE Audit were to occur, you are not required to produce I-9s immediately but will be given three business days to comply. That said, you don’t want to have a last-minute scramble to locate and gather them. The better organized, the lower the risk for error.
- Take the Guesswork Out – I-9 software is worth the investment and takes a substantial amount of the guesswork out of the picture. Here at Tracker, our firm has a perfect 16-year track record of zero fines. Our software reduces the margin for error, providing a nearly 100% accuracy rate. It’s a minimal investment for a high-efficiency output.
An audit is essentially an inspection. There is no guarantee of wrong-doing and no admission of guilt. That said, a lack of organization and accuracy alone could lead to multiple fines.
It’s always best to be prepared.