U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is calling its decision to audit hiring records at 652 businesses nationwide a “bold, new audit initiative” that utilizes inspections as one of the most powerful tools the federal government has to enforce employment and immigration laws.
ICE issued Notices of Inspection to the 652 employers on July 1 to alert them that their hiring records will be inspected to determine whether they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations, according to a statement from the agency. The mass of notices is more than ICE issued throughout all of last fiscal year.
The latest action goes along with guidance the Obama administration issued in April when agents were instructed to focus on employers who hire illegal immigrants instead of arresting workers. “Under this strategy, ICE is focusing its resources on the auditing and investigation of employers suspected of cultivating illegal workplaces by knowingly employing illegal workers,” according to a statement from ICE. The initiative launched on July 1 “is a direct result of this new strategy,” the statement said.
The names of the 652 businesses weren’t released because of the “ongoing, law enforcement sensitive nature of these audits,” ICE said. Agents will review the I-9 forms and identification documents at all the companies receiving notices. A Los Angeles Times article quotes an ICE spokesperson as saying employers with significant numbers of undocumented workers may be fined and if ICE believes the employers knowingly hired illegal immigrants or find a pattern of egregious violations, criminal investigations could be launched.
As to what will happen to employees who can’t prove they’re authorized to work in the United States, the new approach signals fewer arrests than were made during the raids conducted under the Bush administration. But the workers will still lose their jobs if they can’t prove they’re working legally and they could face deportation.
The 652 businesses presented with a notice for an I-9 audit have been selected for inspection as a result of leads and information obtained through investigative means, according to the ICE statement. In other words, the notices weren’t sent to random employers. Instead, they were sent to businesses that ICE suspected were employing undocumented workers.
“ICE is committed to establishing a meaningful I-9 inspection program to promote compliance with the law,” said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton. “This nationwide effort is a first step in ICE’s long-term strategy to address and deter illegal employment.”