ICE announced its enforcements investigations in the last seven months have already doubled last year’s total.

Since October 2017, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened 3,510 worksite investigations, initiated 2,282 I-9 audits, and made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests. Thomas Homan, Acting Director of ICE, predicted in October 2017 that ICE would quadruple worksite enforcement investigations. Now, Derek Benner, head of the ICE HSI unit reported to AP that “another nationwide wave of audits planned this summer would push the total ‘well-over’ 5,000 by September 30.”

The stated purpose of these investigations is to create a “culture of compliance and accountability,” protect jobs for U.S. workers, eliminate “unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.”

The result has been the largest numbers of arrests and the highest penalties assessed in enforcement actions. In January, ICE agents served I-9 audits on 98 7-Eleven stores across 17 states, interviewed employees and managers, and arrested 21 workers. In April, at Southeastern Provision in Tennessee, ICE and the IRS arrested 86 individuals and executed search warrants to gather evidence regarding the company’s compliance.

In FY 2017, such actions against businesses netted $97 million in judicial forfeitures, fines, and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines.

Investigations most often start with a notice of inspection alerting employers that ICE is going to audit their employment records for compliance with existing law. Companies then have three days to produce I-9 records. If employers are found not to be in compliance, civil penalties will be assessed. This can lead to criminal prosecutions. Unauthorized employees who are not legally in the U.S. may be detained and, ultimately, deported. I-9 audits can turn into criminal investigations, however, if certain factors exist.

ICE sees worksite inspections as “one of the most powerful tools the federal government uses to ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws.” Given the government’s focus, preparing for possible inspections by auditing your employment verification processes and records is an essential precaution. If you have questions or concerns about how to proceed, please reach out to your Jackson Lewis attorney.