The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office has told 1,000 employers across the country the agency will audit their hiring records to determine compliance with employment eligibility verification laws. These Notices of Inspection (NOIs) often request not only I-9 documentation, but payroll records, copies of immigration filings, copies of Social Security Administration communications requesting corrections, information on independent contractors, and related information. All documentation normally must be produced within three business days of the employer’s receiving the Notice.

ICE takes the position that such inspections determine whether or not businesses are violating U.S. employment laws by hiring illegal workers and will discourage such hiring practices in the future. According to a statement issue by ICE, the audits are not aimed a particular targets, but “touch on employers of all sizes and in every stated in the nation – no one industry is being targeted nor is any one industry immune from scrutiny.” The agency has not released the names and locations of the businesses targeted in this round of audits. ICE has acknowledged that the 1,000 businesses receiving NOIs were selected by local Special Agents in Charge (SAC) offices.

This latest effort reflects ICE’s focus on increasing I-9 audits as part of a worksite enforcement strategy emphasizing criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire individuals without authorization to work in the U.S. In fiscal year 2010, ICE conducted 2,196 I-9 audits (compared with 1,444 in fiscal year 2009), which included at least two major I-9 audit initiatives: one in July 2009 targeting 654 businesses and another in November 2009 targeting 1,000 companies associated with critical infrastructure. The I-9 audit initiative has the support of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

If you receive a Notice of Inspection, immediately contact your counsel. The window for response is short, but, in some cases, experienced practitioners may be able to assist in obtaining an extension of the document production period. It is critical that employers review thoroughly the documents gathered in response to the Notice, that it be well-organized and presented in the best light possible.

Employers who have not received a Notice this time around should take the opportunity to review and audit their records internally. Compliance efforts now will help avert potential fines that can range from $110 – $16,000 per violation, depending on the offense. For more information on how the Global Immigration Practice Group can assist you, see our I-9 Compliance Brochure.