OCAHO Significantly Reduces Fine After Finding No Unauthorized Employees

On June 30, 2014, the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), which is responsible for review of penalties imposed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for I-9 compliance violations, issued a decision significantly reducing an I-9 penalty for failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms. The Respondent in that case, a janitorial service company, claimed to have misplaced most of the I-9s. ICE imposed a baseline penalty of $935 per missing form. OCAHO reduced this penalty to $450 per form, after finding no unauthorized employees and no history of previous violations.

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.

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 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.

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