Given the current administration’s sharp shift in immigration enforcement, I-9 compliance is quickly gaining reputation amongst employers as an area fraught with harsh penalties for employers failing to comply with its maze of compliance requirements. In recent months, large-scale raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agents have struck chains as popular as 7 Eleven and have reached meat-processing plants as far away as rural Tennessee. For many, the raids have also hit close to home, as more than 150 people were arrested just last August at a trailer manufacturer plant near Paris, Texas. With immigration enforcement gaining traction, it is no surprise that many towns with significant immigration population are paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. Some vulnerable residents find themselves taking drastic measures to avoid attention, such as refusing to leave the house or even avoid showing up for work altogether. Likewise, employers are not immune from the consequences of immigration enforcement. Even as few companies continue to be battered by workplace raids, an increasing number of employers are feeling the effect of immigration enforcement through the sharp rise in I-9 audits and heavy fines for subsequent noncompliance.
While it is undeniable that enforcement is at an all-time high, employers need to take this opportunity to ensure that their employee records are in order. While some employers continue to use E-Verify, a few employers have begun experimenting with IMAGE—a certification program approved by ICE—or electronic preparation services to improve their compliance. Despite the efforts, however, the reality is that many employers consistently fail to meet the minimum requirements set forth by law. And even those who do participate in E-Verify or IMAGE are not exempt from an unannounced audit or raid.
If you are an employer seeking to minimize your interactions with ICE, it is imperative to understand the importance of keeping and updating your employee records. For one, employers should ensure that a Form I-9 exists on file for each employee hired after November 6, 1986. For another, it is crucial to begin training your human resources personnel, managers, or supervisors in the area of immigration compliance. Having a knowledgeable and proactive human resources department can often serve as the first line of defense against suspicious or fraudulent documents—a magnet for I-9 audits. In addition, be cognizant of your employees’ expiring employment authorization documents and be proactive in their re-verification. Finally, for many employers, there is no better defense against an external ICE audit than conducting your own. For over twenty years, Monty and Ramirez has pioneered conducting mock audits for our clients. These mock audits can alert you to deficiencies in employee records while bolstering your good-faith defense against any allegations that may arise the future. Our mock audits have helped countless employers avoid or mitigate potentially catastrophic immigration consequences.