ICE Expands Worksite Enforcement Activities in the Southeast

On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) announced that it was expanding its worksite enforcement strategy in the Southeastern United States. As part of this strategy, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), the agency within DHS directly responsible for worksite enforcement, indicated that it is issuing Notices of Inspections (“NOIs”) to 180 businesses in Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

These NOIs alert the businesses that ICE will be inspecting their Form I-9s and seeking to review voluminous other business records, including a list of current and terminated employees with hire and termination dates; the names, social security numbers and dates of birth of all active employees; quarterly wage and hour reports and/or payroll data on all employees covering the period of inspection; quarterly tax statements; all correspondence with the Social Security Administration (including “No-Match” letters); and more! All of this is an effort by ICE to determine whether the businesses are complying with federal employment eligibility verification laws and regulations. This DHS announcement is the latest in a series of expanding worksite enforcement efforts by the Obama administration. Instead of raids, the Obama administration has focused its efforts on auditing and investigating employers to determine if they are satisfying the Form I-9 requirements and are knowingly or unwittingly employing illegal workers.

Hector Chichoni, the Chair of EBG’s Southeastern Immigration Practice, notes: “this action by ICE underscores what the Immigration Law Group at EBG has been advising clients since the Obama administration took office. Businesses need comprehensive employment verification and related compliance plans in place because the civil and potentially criminal consequences of this enforcement strategy can be severe. Businesses that ignore this important aspect of their operations can face substantial fines that make compliance now not only good corporate citizenship, but also good risk management.”

These ICE inspections are one of the most powerful tools the federal government has to enforce employment and immigration laws. The fines for simple Form I-9 violations range from $110 to $1,100 per violation, with the higher range applicable to employers with a higher percentage of mistakes. Employers with large workforces that fail to properly manage the Form I-9 process can face fines of hundreds, or even millions, of dollars. Employers and their managers also can face criminal prosecution if they deliberately neglect their legal responsibilities in this area. This latest ICE action in the Southeast underscores the need for all businesses to review this important aspect of their operations, develop compliance plans that will protect them from this potential liability and have in place crisis management procedures, including access to outside counsel that specializes in this area, in the event that the “ICEman” cometh!

 

Department of Homeland Security Issues: Final Rule Rescinding "No-Match" Regulation

On October 6, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will issue a final rule, to be published in the Federal Register on October 7, 2009, rescinding the embattled “No-Match” regulation.  As we have previously reported, DHS is of the opinion that the receipt of a “No-Match” letter provided constructive knowledge to an employer that an employee may not be authorized to work. This rule would have created a “safe-harbor” procedure for employers to respond to “No-Match” letters, thus clearing employers from any knowing hire liability for that worker. 

DHS first announced its intention to rescind the “No-Match” rule on August 19, 2009, through the publication of a proposed rule. This action was the culmination of months-long federal litigation concerning whether or not the rule had been lawfully promulgated and whether or not it was constitutional.

In taking this step, effectively abandoning the litigation, DHS stated as follows: “After further review, DHS has determined to focus its enforcement efforts relating to the employment of aliens not authorized to work in the United States on increased compliance through improved verification, including participation in E-Verify, ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers (IMAGE), and other programs.”

Employers beware, upon publication of the rule we fully expect the Social Security Administration to begin issuing new “No-Match” letters and DHS will still consider the receipt of a “No-Match” letter as an indicator of unauthorized employment.  Although there will be no “safe-harbor,” employers should have a plan and procedure in place to address the receipt of a “No-Match” letter. Having a proper plan in place not only helps an employer maintain the integrity of its workforce from an immigration perspective, but also assists an employer in meeting its W-4 reporting requirements with respect to Social Security withholdings.

USCIS Announces Extension of Form I-9

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") announced on August 27, 2009, that the federal Office of Management and Budget has approved an extension of the current Form I-9 to August 31, 2012.  As a result, the USCIS has amended the Form I-9 to reflect an updated revision date of August 7, 2009.  This revision date appears in the lower right hand corner of the form. The USCIS has indicated that employers may use the Form I-9 with a revision date of either February 2, 2009 (the prior revision date) or August 7, 2009 (the current revision date).  The Form I-9 is available at the following web site: www.uscis.gov/i-9

Alert: ICE Serves 652 Businesses Nationwide With Notices of Inspection

On July 2, 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) launched a new and bold initiative to audit companies by issuing Notices of Inspection (“NOIs”) to 652 businesses nationwide.

ICE has stated these “audits are not random” and that the businesses were identified based on “leads and information obtained through other investigative means.” These notices are the government’s first step in what could be the beginning of a very lengthy investigation. ICE officers plan to review the I-9 forms and identification documents of all 652 companies. ICE has also stated that those with significant numbers of undocumented workers may be fined. And, if agents believe the businesses “knowingly hired” illegal immigrants or find “a pattern of egregious violations” criminal investigations could be launched. Pat Reilly, ICE’s spokesperson, said that ICE would not “release the names or locations of the businesses that are being audited because of the ongoing investigations” and that the targeted businesses “represent a broad range of industries.”

However, it has been reported that ICE notified 80 companies in California, including three in Los Angeles, which ICE plans to fine because they employ large numbers of people who do not appear to be authorized to work in the U.S. ICE agents had conducted audits on these companies’ records earlier, and in many cases determined that the Social Security numbers listed for employees either did not exist or did not belong to the employees specified.Targeted companies also include businesses in New York, San Antonio, Seattle, and San Diego. ICE has also sent audit notices to 32 companies in Arizona. For a long time the government has been seeking new ways to impose E-Verify on all US employers. I believe the strategy behind these notices is to paint a picture of rampant immigration violations so, come September 2009, Congress will make E-Verify mandatory for every employer. For as much as the government loves E-Verify, it will never be a substitute for immigration reform or stop illegal immigration.


 

USCIS Issues Guidance on Employment Eligibility Verification Form: Form I-9 Remains Valid Beyond Current Expiration Date of June 30, 2009

WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that the Employment Eligibility Verification form I-9 (Rev. 02/02/09) currently on the USCIS Web site will continue to be valid for use beyond June 30, 2009. USCIS has requested that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approve the continued use of the current version of Form I-9. While this request is pending, the Form I-9 (Rev. 02/02/09) will not expire. USCIS will update Form I-9 when the extension is approved. Employers will be able to use either the Form I-9 with the new revision date or the Form I-9 with the 02/02/09 revision date at the bottom of the form.

USCIS Delays Implementation of Interim Final Rule on Documents Acceptable for Employment Verification

On January 30, 2009, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS")announced that the effective date of the new Form I-9 (Employment Verification Form) has been delayed for 60 days, until April 3, 2009.

The new Form I-9 was scheduled to take effect on February 2, 2009. The comment period on the new form now runs until March 4, 2009. The temporary extension is designed to provide the DHS with an opportunity to further consider the interim final rule: “Documents Acceptable for Employment Verification” which was published by the USCIS on December 17, 2008. The USCIS has also announced that the old Form I-9 should continue to be used until at least March 4, 2009.

All employers and HR personnel should take note.  Once in effect, old versions of the form cannot be used.

New Employment Verification I-9 Form

Today we received the new employment verification From I-9, edition date 06/16/08. Be aware that no previous edition of the same form will be accepted. Please, also note there are several important changes made to the Form I-9 process:

  • Five documents have been removed from List A of the List of Acceptable Documents: Certificate of U.S. Citizenship (Form N-560 or N-561), Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550 or N-570), Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-151), Unexpired Reentry Permit (Form I-327), Unexpired Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571);
  • One document was added to List A of the List of Acceptable Documents: Unexpired Employment Authorization Document (I-766);
  • All Employment Authorization Documents with photographs have been consolidated as one item on List A: I-688, I-688A, I-688B, I-766;
  • Instructions regarding Section 1 of the Form I-9 now indicate that the employee is not obliged to provide his or her Social Security number in Section 1 of the Form I-9, unless he or she is employed by an employer who participates in E-Verify;
  • Employers may now sign and retain Forms I-9 electronically. See instructions on page 2 of the Form I-9.

All employers in Florida should switch to the new form ASAP and used moving forward regardless of any time line provided by the government.  This Will avoid any confusion later on.  The new Form I-9 can be downloaded by clicking here.