When an employer becomes the subject of an enforcement audit by ICE and I-9 violations are discovered, civil fines for simple paperwork violations – even if no undocumented workers are discovered – will range from $110 to $1,100 per I-9 Form depending on the severity of the errors. Penalties for knowingly hiring or continuing to hire undocumented individuals range from $375 to $16,000 per individual. In addition, the company owner, managers and human resources professionals can be held criminally liable for certain infractions.
According to a news release published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) on September 10, 2014, a Salt Lake City-based resort will forfeit nearly $2 million for hiring unauthorized workers. The company will avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for its full cooperation with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and taking action to correct its hiring practices.
According to the press release, several lower-level company employees and mid-level managers conspired to rehire unauthorized workers amidst an HSI administrative audit of I-9 employee verification forms that began in September 2010. The audit ended a year later with the company being notified that 133 employees were not authorized to work in the United States. The company was issued a warning notice and told HSI it had terminated the employees. However, HSI special agents later learned the conspirators created three temporary employment agencies, essentially shell companies, two in August 2011 and one in October 2011, to rehire 43 of the unauthorized workers. The news release states that most of the workers returned under different names using fraudulent identity documents. As part of the settlement, the company will forfeit $1,950,000 to the Department of Homeland Security and is required to take substantial remedial measures, which are expected to cost the company nearly $500,000 to implement.
It is important to have an established procedure for handling government audits of your I-9 Forms and to contact experienced immigration counsel even before becoming the subject of an HSI enforcement audit. Our firm provides a variety of services related to I-9 compliance, including voluntary audits and training, as well as representation in connection with enforcement audits by ICE. We have represented and advised employers in multiple industries with relation to I-9 compliance, including hospitality, restaurant, landscaping, production, retail, staffing, manufacturing, higher education, service provider, and financial industries.