The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has delivered a report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) specifying details on recommended actions to help improve the effectiveness of I-9 audits and worksite enforcement programs.
ICE’s Worksite Enforcement program
Per recent guidance, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) uses a three-pronged approach in its Worksite Enforcement (WSE) Program:
1) Enforcement: includes bringing criminal and civil actions against employers and employees who knowingly violate the law.
2) Compliance: involves conducting Form I-9 inspections of employers to verify potential employees’ eligibility to work in the United States.
3) Outreach: uses the “ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers” (IMAGE) program to promote and encourage voluntary compliance by employers.
OIG Audit and Report Findings
The OIG report follows an audit conducted to determine the impact of ICE’s worksite enforcement program on strategic agency initiatives on border protection and immigration enforcement.
In summary, audit findings concluded that ICE officials did not consistently enforce the I-9 Guide used to support ICE’s immigration enforcement strategy. The guide did not provide sufficient instructions on:
- Justifying reductions for civil fines
- Issuing compliance letters
- Performing follow-up inspections on warning notices
OIG also noted that as a result, the worksite enforcement program did not effectively deter employers from hiring illegal workers or violating employment immigration laws. Additionally, the audit report included details of ICE’s lack of measurable progress of employer outreach programs.
OIG Recommendations for ICE
To help improve efficacy of worksite enforcement programs and updates to the I-9 Guide, OIG provided four recommendations for ICE to follow:
Recommendation 1: Update the I-9 Guide to include minimum elements ICE officials must document in case files to justify fine reductions.
Recommendation 2: Assess I-9 processes and update the I-9 Guide to ensure it addresses risks and challenges, including:
- When employers make corrections to address substantive violations and when employers claim they were unaware that they employed Unauthorized Alien Workers.
- ICE’s ability to conduct follow-up inspections with limited resources.
- When I-9 inspections identify individuals using fraudulent documents to obtain unlawful employment.
Recommendation 3: Develop and implement a quality assurance process that allows ICE headquarters to sample cases on an objective, periodic basis to determine whether field offices reduce fines, issue compliance letters and conduct follow-up inspections of employers in accordance with ICE policies and procedures.
Recommendation 4: Conduct an assessment of the IMAGE program to determine whether implementation of other approaches would aid in achieving its outreach goal and be cost effective, or if funds should be put to better use.
What Does All of this Mean for Employers?
Adherence to Form I-9 laws should continue to be a major priority for employers, and the reduction of fines resulting from I-9 related violations may be much more limited than they were in the past. I-9 audits could also become more prevalent and stringent with the new guidelines. Form I-9 related violations can add up quickly with fines for I-9 paperwork violations ranging from $234 – $2,332 per Form. Employers are provided as few as three business days to hand over all of their I-9 documentation following an ICE Notice of Inspection (NOI). That doesn’t provide much time to prepare.
Get Help Staying on Top of I-9 Compliance
Equifax offers a suite of Form I-9 services designed to help you better manage your I-9s. Learn how our I-9 Management service can help you to process your I-9s more quickly and accurately, while helping keep you better prepared to respond to an ICE I-9 audit.
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