Approximately $50 million in financial sanctions for worksite enforcement violations were imposed by the federal government in fiscal year (FY) 2010, according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton. The agencies announced record-breaking immigration enforcement results that reflect the aggressive stance taken under the Obama Administration to combat the hiring of unauthorized workers. While the government continues to detain and remove unauthorized individuals, Secretary Napolitano emphasized that the Obama Administration also would continue to pressure employers, holding them accountable through I-9 audits, fines and debarment from immigration programs.

ICE has achieved the following in FY 2010:
• Removing 392,000 individuals, including 195,000 convicted criminal foreign nationals
• Bringing criminal charges against a record-breaking 180 owners, employers, managers and/or supervisors — up from 114 in FY 2009 and 135 in FY 2008
• Conducting more than 2,200 I-9 audits — up from a little more than 1,400 in FY 2009
• Imposition of approximately $50 million in financial sanctions
• Debarment of 97 businesses and 49 individuals in FY 2010, up from 30 businesses and 53 individuals in FY 2009

This is a reminder to employers to question and review their I-9 practices and policies. While ICE states that it conducts I-9 investigations of employers based on credible leads (such as complaints from disgruntled employees, tips from the public or cases having national security or public safety implications), they also reserve the right to initiate audits for other reasons, such as referrals from other government agencies that have investigated an employer in an unrelated matter or even randomly targeting industries generally known to have high reports of undocumented workers, such as in construction, hospitality, retail and food production.

To forestall any negative government actions in this area, an employer would be wise to conduct its own internal I-9 audit or engage legal counsel to do so. Start with an overall audit plan and implementation of the plan, and follow through on corrections of identified errors and maintenance of a thorough I-9 compliance policy. For more information on how the Global Immigration Group can assist you, see our I-9 Compliance Brochure. Preparation is key.