Another significant concern for employers involves the real specter of worksite enforcement actions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Under U.S. immigration laws, employers are required to verify on Form I-9 the identity and employment authorization of all employees, regardless of nationality, who start work on or after Nov. 6, 1986. Employers who violate these employment eligibility requirements are subject to increased civil monetary penalties and possible criminal prosecution. They also may be fined for knowingly employing unauthorized aliens or other Form I-9 violations, including failure to complete the Form I-9 properly, wrongful discrimination against job applicants on the basis of nationality or citizenship, and immigration-related document fraud.
In the past, the prospect of monetary penalties did not appear to have much deterrent effect on employers, who often came to view these fines as simply the “cost of doing business.” In recent years, however, ICE has intensified its efforts to enforce worksite violations. More importantly, ICE is bringing criminal charges against employers with much greater frequency. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently increased the fine structure for offending employers significantly. In addition, the ICE budget for investigations has increased substantially, and this has led to several highly publicized large-scale worksite raids and investigations at well-known corporations, such as Wal-Mart, Swift and Tyson Foods. Through these and other worksite enforcement actions, the government is making it clear that the continued employment of undocumented workers is a major problem that is best addressed through application of the federal criminal and asset forfeiture laws.
As a result of these actions, the government no longer is issuing small fines to employers who commit serious Form I-9 violations. ICE now is conducting lengthy criminal investigations that result in indictments of company owners, executives, managers and other company personnel involved in these illegal activities. Criminal charges include harboring illegal aliens, money laundering and/or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. These offenses can carry a potential 10-20 year prison sentence, plus forfeiture of all company assets and revenues utilized in this illegal activity.5
During the first three quarters of fiscal year 2007, ICE’s Worksite Enforcement investigations resulted in over $30 million in forfeitures and civil or criminal fines, restitution orders, and civil judgments levied against employers. This is a significant increase in the amount paid by employers for immigration violations in prior years, which totaled $1,095,734 in FY 2001, $72,585 in FY 2002, $37,514 in FY 2003, $45,480 in FY 2004, and $6,500 in FY 2005.