An interesting article by Manuel Valdes, Associated Press, references startling statistics on the huge increase in I-9 audits and related arrests. The article reads:
"Audits of employer I-9 forms increased from 250 in fiscal year 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012. From fiscal years 2009 to 2012, the total amount of fines grew to nearly $13 million from $1 million. The number of company managers arrested has increased to 238, according to data provided by ICE."
Worksite raids where individual workers were targeted and eventually separated from their families became politically unpalatable. The focus quickly shifted to employers who now have a big bull's-eye on their backs in the fight against illegal workers. As Mr. Valdez writes:
"The investigations of companies have been one of the pillars of President Barack Obama’s immigration policy."
Even if an employer does not employ an unauthorized worker, there can be collateral consequences from an I-9 audit for technical violations and inadvertent discriminatory practices.
Employers have the difficult and unenviable task of ensuring workers are properly documented and eligible to work without requesting too much proof and possibly engaging in employment or citizenship discrimination. In addition, employers need to be very careful about utilizing contractors who may employ illegal workers.
It is clear the government wants to address the practice of hiring illegal workers and overhaul current employment verification and employer sanction programs. Proposed changes, however, have the potential to unfairly transfer to employers a larger portion of responsibility and blame for the presence of illegal workers in the U.S. The government is looking to mete out punishment for illegal workers and employers may be the easiest target. Reading between the lines, one can speculate that increased enforcement and penalties against employers will continue play a large role in immigration policy.
Given the increased audits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the view that employers should pay a penalty for being complicit in the illegal worker problem, HR professionals will need to be even more diligent with their internal hiring and documentation procedures. Many employers will be forced to pay the price, literally, for an inefficient and impractical I-9 and employment verification system.
Andrew M. Wilson, Esq.