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Employers Face Hefty Fines for I-9 Noncompliance

Employers continue to be subject to substantial fines by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for “suspect documents” and failure to properly complete I-9 employment forms and verification of U.S. work authorization. An analysis of ICE internal records reveal that of the nearly 800 audit cases since October 2010, approximately half of the 117 companies fined were not specifically on account of hiring illegal immigrants, but for errors with the I-9 employment verification paperwork. Records show that a third of the total $1.8 million in fines issued by ICE involved companies where there was actually no finding of workers with suspect documents. One employer complained, “They’re not looking for illegals. They’re looking for clerical errors . . . It’s a money grab.” However, ICE states that some employers fined only for paperwork errors may have knowingly hired illegal immigrants, but often auditors are unable to prove it since by law, employers are only required to complete an I-9 and accept a Social Security card that appears to be “reasonably genuine.” And of the 337 companies where auditors found to have had suspect documents, 52 of them were issued fines averaging more than $20,000 and several companies faced criminal charges or debarment from future government contracts. However, records also indicate that many companies with suspect employees are merely issued a warning notice. This lack of consistency in enforcement by ICE is a source of frustration and confusion for many employers. ICE spokeswoman, Danielle Bennett, responds “Employers need to understand that the integrity of their employment records are as important to the federal government as the integrity of their tax files or banking records. Much like the IRS uses audits as a deterrent strategy to prevent people from falsifying tax records, part of our strategy in conducting audits is to encourage businesses to comply with the law.”