The Trump administration’s tough stance on enforcing employer compliance continues.  Last year, there were a number of highly publicized raids, including the following:

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 364 individuals during 30-day enforcement visits in the following midwestern states: Illinois (134), Indiana (52), Kansas (43), Kentucky (60), Missouri (42), Wisconsin (33).
  • ICE conducted a worksite visit at a family-owned business in Texas with 500+ employees and arrested approximately 160 foreign nationals.
  • ICE served search warrants at various businesses in Nebraska and Minnesota resulting in the apprehension of 133 foreign nationals. The businesses where the warrants were served included a grocery store, restaurants, a private ranch, and a grain company.  According to ICE, these enforcement actions were part of a 15-month investigation based on evidence that these employers were knowingly employing unauthorized workers.
  • In June 2018, 200 federal officers raided an Ohio gardening and landscaping company. One hundred and fourteen foreign nationals suspected of being in the U.S. without lawful status were arrested.
  • Ninety-seven foreign nationals working at a meat processing plant in Tennessee were arrested on federal and state charges. This was a joint operation between the Homeland Security Investigations arm, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.  The government opened a case to investigate the business after the employer’s bank noticed large sums of money being withdrawn every week, supposedly to pay the unauthorized workers in cash.
  • ICE raided 98 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and the District of Columbia to issue Notices of Inspection and interview employees. The investigation led to 21 arrests.

This year, the overall trend has been consistent as in 2018.  In July, ICE issued Notices of Inspection to more than 3,000 companies.  The same month, ICE officers launched a series of raids in an effort to apprehend more than 2,000 undocumented migrants across the country.  The number of I-9 audit cases being submitted for review by the OCAHO (Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer) confirms the increase in the number of audits and that the government will audit companies regardless of size, location, or industry.

  • For example, in March 2017, a cleaning services company was served with a Notice of Inspection. Of the 578 Forms I-9 produced by the employer, ICE found that 439 I-9 forms contained substantive violations, including untimely completion of 120 forms, missing I-9s for 224 employees, and failure to properly complete Section 1 and/or Section 2 of I-9 forms for 337 employees.  After taking into account the mitigating factors, the OCAHO ordered the employer to pay $1,161,143.20 in civil penalties.
  • In the case against Technical Marine Maintenance and Gulf Coast Workforce (issued December 2018), the OCAHO imposed a civil fine of $857,868 against these employers, finding that the companies engaged in unfair documentary practices against non-U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents. The fact that the companies were unwilling to cooperate with ICE during the audit was an aggravating factor.
  • In January 2017, a transportation service company of approximately 11 employees was selected for an audit. Based on its review of the company’s I-9’s, ICE proposed $21,506.10 in civil penalties.  The OCAHO considered the mitigating factors and reduced the amount to $4,500.
  • In December 2016, a cleaning services company was served with a Notice of Inspection. In July 2017, ICE issued a Notice of Intent to Fine in the amount of $44,315.60, and the OCAHO confirmed the monetary amount.
  • Two concrete service companies in southern California with the same owner were selected for an audit in January 2015. Company A had approximately 28 employees and Company B about 48. The OCAHO assessed a civil penalty of $5,500 against Company A and $11,325 against Company B, recognizing the fact that they are both businesses with less than 100 employees.

One of the factors considered when calculating civil fines is whether the employer acted on its own to mitigate or cure any I-9 violations prior to receiving a Notice of Inspection.  The best way to prepare for a visit from ICE is to proactively conduct internal audits of the I-9 forms, identify systematic issues leading to I-9 violations, and implement measures and educate the workforce.  Given the raids and penalties described above, these measures may be more important to many employers than ever before.