Immigration Law Compliance: How good are your I-9s?
It starts out as a normal workday in the HR department of XYZ company…You just deleted 54 spam e-mails, listened to 27 inane voice messages, and refilled the empty coffee pot (again). You look out the window to the parking lot (because those are the types of scenic views HR managers get in the corporate hierarchy). You notice several buses surrounded by black clad, gun wielding figures with the letters "INS" on their jackets. This can’t be good. You look over to the file cabinet with the drawer labeled "I-9 Forms". Your next thought… "I hope I’m not Paris Hilton’s cell mate?"
This may have been how it went down at Iridium Industries’ Artube Division in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania when 81 employees were arrested in an immigration raid. Fortunately for them, the target was a temporary agency operating in the area. The subject of immigration compliance for temporary agencies has been covered by me in a previous post.
The immigration raids are conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of its "Worksite Enforcement Initiative". These raids target "egregious employers involved in criminal activity or worker exploitation." However, the scope of ICE operations might suggest more as it operates 17 teams making 15,049 immigration arrests.
The INS has several mechanism to discover the employment of illegal workers including the following:
- Social Security Mismatch Letters: Coordination between the IRS and the SSA began in 2002 with the issuance of "mismatch letters" that require an employer to check and report on discrepancies between SSN# and W-2 forms. The SSA process and ramifications are summarized in a posting by Linda S. Husar.
- DOL and OFCCP Audits: Several government agencies conduct random audits of employer’s I-9 forms as a part of their other audit activities.
- Proposed Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS): The White proposal for an electronic verification system under the Immigration Reform Bill is likely to succeed. Under this system, employers will be required to verify the work eligibility of ALL employees.
The consequences to a business and individuals for noncompliance with immigration laws including correct I-9 reporting are significant. The following is a partial list of penalties:
- For employers who fail to properly complete, retain, or make I-9 Forms available for inspection, fines range from $100 to $1,100 per individual I-9.
- For employers who knowingly hire or knowingly continue to employ unauthorized workers, civil penalties range from $250 to $11,000 per violation.
- For employers engaging in a pattern or practice of knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized workers, fines can be as much as $3,000 per employee and/or 6 months in imprisonment.