The New ICE Crackdown on Employers

ICE – the U.S. Department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement – is aggressively pursuing employers who hire illegal workers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Julie Myers announced that ICE will conduct more I-9 form audits in 2008. ICE has the authority to inspect employers’ I-9 forms, and it is planning to use this authority as another mechanism to ensure that employers are complying with immigration laws. The fines associated with I-9 form violations range from $110 to $1,100.

ICE’s more aggressive worksite enforcement strategy targeted the “jobs magnet” that attracts illegal aliens seeking employment in the U.S. In FY07, ICE dramatically increased penalties against employers whose hiring processes violate the law, securing fines and judgments of more than $30 million while making 863 criminal arrests and 4,077 administrative arrests.

In the past, administrative fines often proved to hold little deterrence value for violators. Many employers came to view these fines as simply the “cost of doing business.” Administrative fines were ignored, not paid in a timely matter or mitigated down over several years. ICE has dramatically increased the amounts of criminal fines and forfeiture over previous years of administrative fines alone. Administrative fines in FY 2001 totaled $1,095,734, $72,585 in FY 2002, $37,514 in FY 2003, $45,480 in FY 2004, and $6,500 in FY 2005. However, during the three quarters of FY 2007, ICE has obtained criminal fines, restitutions, and civil judgments in WSE investigations in excess of $30 million.

In criminal cases, ICE is often pursuing charges of harboring illegal aliens, money laundering and/or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. Harboring illegal aliens is a felony with a potential 10-year prison sentence. Money laundering is a felony with a potential 20-year prison sentence. ICE has found these criminal sanctions to be a far greater deterrent to illegal employment schemes than administrative sanctions.

Employers should continue to ensure their compliance with immigration laws by properly completing the I-9 form. In addition, employers may want to conduct a self-audit of their I-9 forms and correct any errors.

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