Employers Facing Surge in Immigration Enforcement

Criminal investigations/arrests and I-9 audits surged in fiscal year 2018 following the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s announcement of its intent to increase its worksite enforcement efforts. A few FY2018 statistics document this surge:

  • 6,848 worksite investigations were opened (compared to 1,691 in FY2017);

  • 5,981 I-9 audits were initiated (compared to 1,360 in FY 2017);

  • 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests occurred (compared to 139 and 172, respectively, in FY2017).

Several high-profile enforcement actions have been reported by ICE, including:

  • In April 2018, a search warrant was executed at a slaughterhouse in Tennessee, resulting in the arrest of 104 employees. Subsequently, the owner of the company pleaded guilty to tax fraud, wire fraud, and employing illegal aliens, and agreed to pay $1.4 million in restitution even before his scheduled May 2019 sentencing.

  • In August 2018, criminal arrest warrants were issued for 17 individuals connected to an alleged conspiracy to exploit illegal alien laborers for profit, as well as fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, at agricultural firms in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada.

  • In February 2019, a worksite enforcement operation was conducted at a California market resulting in the arrest of 26 individuals working at the market.

  • In April 2019, search warrants were executed at a Texas telecommunications equipment repair company and several related staffing companies resulting in the arrest of over 280 employees. This criminal investigation reportedly stemmed from an I-9 audit that was initiated after multiple tips indicated that the company had hired illegal aliens and that individuals employed there were using fraudulent identification documents. 

As these and other reported enforcement efforts make clear, there is no time like the present for employers to ensure that they are in compliance with all immigration and hiring laws. Indeed, this is truly an environment in which “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The adoption and implementation of an effective I-9 compliance policy, including regular auditing of completed I-9 forms and comprehensive training of those responsible for the completion of such forms, can help to avoid the harsh consequences of non-compliance (which, as illustrated by the cases above, may include jail time, substantial fines, significant business disruption, and other serious consequences).  

This blog was written by Sufen Zhang at Miles & Stockbridge.

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