The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, has drawn a lot of attention in recent months as a result of its increasingly rigid and expansive efforts to locate, prosecute, and deport undocumented immigrants. While the TV cameras’ focus has largely been on the United States’ southern border, many of the Agency’s more sweeping and impactful activities have taken place beyond the media’s view – and far from any border.
While people often think of ICE agents in the context of airport checkpoints or a desert border fence, workplace raids have become an increasingly significant activity. Already this year, ICE has conducted a series of high-profile raids targeting convenience stores, farms, restaurants, manufacturers and others in an effort to identify and extricate undocumented workers – and penalize their employers.
The Agency has already announced a planned increase in workplace sweeps this summer. In nine months, the agency has already exceeded the numbers of raids it has executed by about 25% over the total from the previous fiscal year. In addition, ICE is expanding the scope of raids beyond individuals targeted for arrest, routinely reviewing records for other employees and both pursuing criminal and civil prosecutions against employers.
A company doesn’t necessarily have to employ undocumented workers to run afoul of ICE in the case of a raid or an audit. The agency is aggressively targeting paperwork violations as well; employers who fail to maintain I-9 and other mandatory recordkeeping are subject to an increasingly onerous schedule of monetary penalties, with the amount of assessed fines and costs mounting for each instance of an error or omission. A recent article explains how this can rapidly add up to tens of thousands of dollars – and in cases where a similar mistake is repeatedly made on multiple employees’ documentation, each instance counts as a separate infraction.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for many small to medium-sized businesses to make precisely these kinds of mistakes, even when making a good-faith effort to remain in complete compliance with immigration law. Misplacing copies of employee identification materials, use of outdated forms, following outdated procedures, failing to account for visa expirations, or unwittingly accepting counterfeit eligibility documents all can make companies and managers criminally and civilly liable. For many, determining employment eligibility and maintaining appropriate records to ICE standards is becoming an increasingly difficult and hazard-prone process.
At Trion Solutions we’re finding that more and more small to medium-sized businesses are turning to us to help navigate the ICE minefield. Just as with other areas of regulatory compliance, our thorough and extensively vetted approach serves to minimize any possibility of error and correspondingly reduce risk. We are able to quickly determine an individual’s eligibility, or lack thereof, to work within the United States, and our systematic handling and maintenance of necessary forms, records and documentation ensures that clerical and administrative errors subject to onerous fines are prevented. In light of ICE’s stated objective to ramp up I-9 audits to 15,000 in the near future, that becomes an increasingly valuable service that we’re able to provide to our customers.
There is no sign that ICE will be relaxing either its vigilance or the severity of its penalties any time soon – and as recent events have shown, employers of all types and virtually anywhere in the U.S. face substantial risk of business disruption, even if in full compliance. That disruption magnifies exponentially when problems are found. The risks and the potential impact are both real and significant. Trion makes it our business to help our clients carry that burden, and maintain “business as usual.”