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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. ICE’s I-9 Audits Will Increase by 400% in Fiscal Year 2018

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



    As I have discussed numerous times in this blog, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the Trump administration, has significantly increased I-9 inspections/audits of employers to verify that their employees are authorized to work in the country and determine whether substantive paperwork violations have occurred. Now, we have statistics which substantiate the heightened activity of ICE in worksite enforcement.

    Between October 1, 2017, the beginning of fiscal year 2018, and May 4, 2018, there have been 2,282 ICE audits of employers’ I-9 forms while in the prior fiscal year, October 2016 and September 2017, there were 1,360 audits. Derek Benner, head of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit, said another nationwide wave of audits, like the ICE audits of 7-Eleven in January 2018, planned this summer, would push the total number of audits to "well over" 5,000 by the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2018. If so, that would be almost a 400% increase from fiscal year 2017 and highest number of ICE audits ever. ICE audits, as we know them today, started in George W. Bush’s administration. ICE audits previously peaked at 3,127 in 2013.

    According to Brenner, ICE has developed a plan to conduct as many as 15,000 I-9 audits a year if it can receive appropriate funding and support from other areas of the Trump administration. The plan calls for 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 that putting up to 250 auditors in one center with the right technology and a team of attorneys to quickly levy fines would enable his agency to audit between 10,000 and 15,000 companies annually.

    Benner stated one of the goals of this proposal is to create a "reasonable expectation" among employers that they will be audited. "This is kind of our vision of creating this culture of compliance," he said. "I think it's a game-changer."

    The plan also proposes changing the manner of delivery of the ICE Notice of Inspection (NOI) from in person to email or certified mail. Furthermore, after an initial review, by electronically scanning the I-9 forms for suspicious activity, the most egregious cases will be sent to regional offices for more in-depth investigation.

    Benner said the agency will focus both on criminal cases against employers as well deporting employees who in the country illegally. The statistics show there were 594 employers arrested on criminal work-related immigration charges from October 1 to May 4, up from 139 during the previous fiscal year.

    The deportation numbers will certainly increase due to this worksite enforcement as ICE has begun to detain employees listed on the Notice of Suspect Documents. Prior administrations did not detain undocumented workers on the Notice of Suspect Documents which lead many undocumented workers to quit one employer and find work down the road with another employer. As Brenner and many other immigration officials have stated, hiring undocumented workers creates unfair advantages for companies, encourages people to come to the U.S. illegally, results in document and identity fraud, exposes workers to potentially dangerous conditions without proper equipment, and leads to failure to pay overtime pay.

    If the heightened I-9 audits by ICE frightens you, as it should, be prepared and conduct an internal I-9 audit under the direction or control of an experienced immigration attorney with expertise in worksite enforcement. If you want to know more information on employer immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  2. Be Prepared for a Notice of Inspection from ICE, They May be at Your Door

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branches out from their concentration of ICE audits of California employers to the heartland of the United States, such as Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, employers need to be ready to respond to ICE’s delivery of a Notice of Inspection/subpoena.

    One of the best ways to prepare for an I-9 inspection by ICE is to hire an immigration attorney, who is experienced in worksite enforcement and immigration compliance issues. Even if you currently have an immigration attorney for employment-based visas, there is a good chance that he or she does not handle worksite enforcement, such as ICE inspections. Therefore, if you have an immigration attorney, reach out to him or her and inquire as to whether they are experienced in worksite enforcement matters. If so, great but if not, ask him or her to refer to an experienced immigration compliance/worksite enforcement attorney. If you don’t have an immigration attorney, ask your corporate counsel for assistance in finding one. You don’t want to be doing this after ICE shows up at your facility.

    The next step is for your immigration compliance attorney to conduct or supervise an internal I-9 audit. Through this audit, numerous errors will be found, most of which can be corrected so that if ICE inspects your I-9 forms, the errors will not be considered a substantive error, for which you can be penalized for. And don’t kid yourself, your I-9 forms have lots of errors. In all my years of practice, I don’t recall any employer’s I-9 forms as impeccable although on more than one occasion an employer has stated such before the I-9 audit began.

    Also, don’t be fooled by the fact that all your employees are U.S. citizens. You can still have substantive and technical I-9 errors. Another common comment from employers is I’m in great shape as we use E-Verify. Although E-Verify is excellent in establishing who is authorized to work, it cannot locate substantive or technical errors on the I-9 forms. One proven method to reduce substantive or technical errors on the I-9 forms is using electronic I-9 systems as well as using the “smart” I-9 form, which was introduced by the USCIS in 2016.

    The reason preparedness is so important is because of the short time period ICE gives employers to respond and supply the subpoenaed I-9 forms. The Notice of Inspection/subpoena allows the company just three days to turn over their I-9 forms, along with a laundry list of other documents such as payroll information, tax statements and assorted corporate documents. Usually, your counsel will be able to get an extension of these three days but rarely will ICE extend the date by more than a week. However, even this timeframe is not nearly enough time for a company that was not already prepared for it, especially if the company has a lot of employees or former employees. ICE can and does subpoena I-9 forms of former employees. One helpful hint on former employees’ I-9 forms is they may be purged at certain times but not after the subpoena is delivered.

    Getting an attorney involved as soon as an ICE inspection is launched can help an employer in several ways. As stated above, an attorney may help the company negotiate a few days’ extension in responding to the subpoena. And/or the attorney may be able to get a reduction in the list of requested documents. Most importantly, an attorney can help the employer prepare to respond in a methodical and thoughtful way.

    Being prepared for a Notice of Inspection/subpoena requires a company to have proper procedures in place upon hiring. The best way to have these procedures in place is with an Immigration Compliance Policy. Unless you have retained an immigration compliance/worksite enforcement attorney, it is extremely unlikely you have such a policy. One paragraph in your employee handbook does not equal an Immigration Compliance Policy. Under such a policy, every employee responsible for completing I-9 records on behalf of the company should be trained to do so. To many people, it is hard to tell the difference between a green card and a work authorization document issued to a recipient of DACA or TPS. Yet, one represents permanent work authorization that should never be reverified, and the other requires the employer to reverify the I-9 form upon the document’s expiration.
  3. ICE Announces its Three-prong Approach to Worksite Enforcement

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

    On the heels of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “silent raids” on almost 100 7-Eleven convenience stores and the resolution of a worksite enforcement case against Asplundh Tree Experts Co., which paid a record $95 million in fines and forfeitures, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a three-prong approach to conduct worksite enforcement. In doing so, ICE stated this ensures employees are legally authorized to work in the United States for employers, from small start-up operations to the largest corporations.

    This strategy involves a three-prong approach to worksite enforcement: immigration compliance, through Form I-9 inspections, civil fines and referrals for debarment; enforcement, through the arrest of employers, knowingly employing undocumented workers, and the arrest of unauthorized workers for violation of laws associated with working without authorization; and outreach, through the IMAGE program, to instill a culture of compliance and accountability.

    “Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) prioritizes violators who abuse and exploit their workers, aid in the smuggling or trafficking of their alien workforce into the United States, create false identity documents or facilitate document fraud, or create an entire business model using an unauthorized workforce,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Derek Benner. “Further priority is given to looking closely at those companies or industries that are deemed national security or critical infrastructure interests.” ICE also stated an effective worksite enforcement strategy must address both employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, as well as the workers themselves.

    ICE’s statement highlighted the recent resolution of a case against Asplundh Tree Experts Co., one of the largest privately-held companies in the United States. This case revealed a scheme to unlawfully employ undocumented workers, in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States. The company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a monetary forfeiture judgment in the amount of $80 million – the largest judgment ever handed down in a worksite enforcement investigation. They are also required to abide by an administrative compliance agreement. Pursuant to a separate civil settlement agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15 million to satisfy civil claims arising out of their failure to comply with immigration law, bringing the total cost of this illegal scheme to $95 million.

    To learn more about employer immigration compliance and steps you can take to prevent I-9 violations and hiring undocumented workers, I invite you to read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book that I co-authored with Greg Siskind, which is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  4. ICE Planning Worksite Enforcement Operation against National Food Service Chain

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is planning to conduct a major worksite enforcement operation against an unknown national food service chain in the next few weeks, according to an internal ICE document reviewed by Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast.

    It is unknown whether this action will be a raid or other type of ICE operation. If it is a raid, it will be a sign that the Trump Administration is returning to raids on employers. The last major raid occurred at Howard Industries in Laurel, Mississippi in August 2008. After the Laurel raid at the end of President George W. Bush’s term, ICE stopped conducting raids, presumably due to the high cost and the difficulty in conducting a surprise raid.

    According to an anonymous ICE official (he was not permitted to discuss impending operations on the record) that The Daily Beast spoke to, the current plan is focused on employers across the nation, who are “harboring illegal aliens,” by illegally paying below the minimum wage.

    ICE’s planned action is not unexpected given the Trump Administration’s increased enforcement of other aspects of immigration enforcement. Recently, Tom Homan, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said he has instructed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative unit of ICE, to increase "by four to five times" worksite enforcement actions in 2018. Homan also stated, "We've already increased the number of inspections in worksite operations, you will see that significantly increase this next fiscal year."

    Additionally, in marked contrast to previous administrations’ worksite enforcement operations, Homan said "We're going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers" as “that is our job.” Furthermore, Homan stated ICE is going to strongly prosecute employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrant workers, in addition to deporting their undocumented workers. The anonymous ICE official said undocumented workers who cooperate with the agency could potentially be eligible for U visas, which provides non-immigrant visas to remain in the United States to victims of crimes, who cooperate in an investigation and testify at a trial, if necessary, against their employers.

    Even if this major raid occurs, is this just as a show of force on this occasion for the sake of publicity or a full swing back to numerous ICE raids on employers? Only time will tell.

    For a review of ICE’s criminal actions against employers as well as other employer immigration compliance issues, I invite you to read my new book, The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, which is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
  5. ICE Increasing its ICE Inspections by 4 to 5 times Current Level

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
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    In a speech to the Heritage Foundation on October 17, Tom Homan, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said he has instructed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative unit of ICE which conducts I-9 Inspections/Audits, to increase "by four to five times" worksite enforcement actions in 2018.

    Homan also stated, "We've already increased the number of inspections in worksite operations, you will see that significantly increase this next fiscal year." Homan said HSI’s goal is to remove the "magnet" drawing people to enter the US illegally.

    Homan’s statement was not unexpected given the Trump Administration’s increased enforcement of other aspects of immigration enforcement. Although earlier in 2017, ICE stated it had not increased the number of I-9 Inspections/Audits from the last year of the Obama Administration, it was just a matter of time before increases occurred. I have been warning employers and employer associations of the strong likelihood of increased I-9 Inspections/Audits.

    When worksite enforcement actions (I-9 Inspections/Audits) increase by four to five times, we could see over 6,500 I-9 Inspections/Audits per fiscal year. This would be more than double the number that the Obama Administration conducted in any year.

    Additionally, in marked contrast to earlier I-9 Inspections/Audits, Homan said "We're going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers" as “that is our job.” Furthermore, Homan stated ICE is going to strongly prosecute employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrant workers, in addition to deporting their undocumented workers.

    Over the past 10 years, when ICE has found undocumented workers at an employer’s worksites through analysis of employer’s I-9 forms, it would issue a Notice of Suspect Documents to the employer. It then instructed the employer to notify these workers and give them the opportunity to provide “newer and better documents” to prove their work authorization. If workers did not do so, ICE instructed employers to terminate those employees or face penalties for knowingly employing undocumented workers. However, ICE never went to the worksites to detain those workers who did not have valid work authorization. Interestingly, many undocumented workers thought ICE would detain them so they quit when their employer stated ICE said their documents did not establish work authorization.

    This increased step of detaining undocumented workers at an employer’s worksites had been anticipated due to the fact it is an easy method to vastly increase individuals for deportation. It will be interesting to see at what point ICE raids the employer to detain workers on the Notice of Suspect Documents – at the time of its issuance or after the employees have attempted to provide new documentation.

    For a review of ICE Inspections and how to conduct an internal I-9 audit in advance of an ICE inspection as well as other employer immigration compliance issues, I invite you to read my new book, The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, which is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.
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