The prevalence of document fraud in the workplace was the subject of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Assistant Director Waldemar Rodriguez’s testimony yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. She noted that because immigration-related crime poses a significant threat to national security and public safety, ICE continues to prioritize investigation of identity fraud.

Identity fraud is regularly found in investigations involving critical infrastructure protection, worksite enforcement, visa compliance enforcement, and national security. “While commonly used by aliens attempting to enter or remain in the United States typically to obtain work, document and benefit fraud have also been used by terrorists and other criminal organizations to facilitate illicit activity,” she said. To address the risk and thwart the activity, ICE created Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces (DBFTFs)—19 in all throughout the United States. The DBFTFs work hand-in-hand with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of State, and the Social Security Administration.

Since 2009, ICE Worksite and DBFTF teams have audited more than 7,000 employers suspected of hiring illegal labor, debarred nearly 600 companies and individuals from federal contracts, and imposed over $80 million in civil penalties.  Rather than comment on the prevalence of fraudulent document usage, DAD Rodriguez instead advised that employers—concerned that they might be the subject of an I-9 inspection that results in civil fines, debarment, and, ultimately, criminal prosecution—should turn to the ICE IMAGE program to protect themselves from identity thieves.

Two elements of the IMAGE program are:

(1) participating in the E-Verify program to take advantage of its Photo Tool for new hires that present U.S. Passports, Lawful Permanent Resident Cards, Employment Authorization Documents, and, for the time being, Mississippi driver’s licenses; and
(2) providing forensic document training to hiring managers and HR staff that may involve the use of blue light devices and magnifying lenses.

Participating in IMAGE presents challenges. Employers need to educate themselves about the risks. Each I-9 audit brings with it the potential for a criminal investigation. So, prior to heeding DAD Rodriguez’s advice, employers should take a long look at their internal compliance strategy and partner with specialized immigration counsel for advice.