Recent news reports confirm that in fiscal year (FY) 2019, U.S. employers continued to face heightened scrutiny from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the area of worksite enforcement. According to statistics provided to The Wall Street Journal, ICE initiated 6,812 new worksite investigations during the last fiscal year, which ended on September 30. Although the agency initiated 36 fewer cases than it did in FY 2018, there were 5,000 more investigations in FY 2019 than there were in FYs 2017 and 2016 — 1,691 and 1,701 respectively.
Increased worksite enforcement has been one of the key goals of the Trump Administration. In October 2017, ICE leadership announced its intent to at least quadruple the number of annual worksite inspections. In 2018, there was a significant uptick in investigations after ICE initiated a program intended to “create a culture of compliance among employers.” The FY 2019 numbers show the agency’s ongoing commitment to meeting the Administration’s goal of prioritizing worksite enforcement.
Employers who do not comply with workforce immigration laws are subject to civil and criminal penalties. Penalties related to Form I-9 compliance can be quite costly. Civil fines for I-9 paperwork violations range from $230 to $2,292 per form with at least one violation. Penalties for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ an unauthorized worker(s) range from $573 to $22,927. In determining penalty amounts, ICE considers five factors: the size of the business, good faith effort to comply, the seriousness of violation, whether the violation involved unauthorized workers, and the history of previous violations. Criminal penalties are possible if an employer has engaged in a pattern or practice of knowingly employing unauthorized workers.
In the current environment, it is more important than ever that employers have a comprehensive and effective immigration compliance program. Internal review of an organization’s compliance program can help to remediate errors, identify areas for improvement, and minimize the risk of future violations and penalties.