ICE has had no official Director since June 2018, when Thomas Homan left the post, but that has not slowed down its worksite and other enforcement activities, according to the agency’s latest fiscal year report (FY 2018 covers October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018).

Acting Director Ronald D. Vitiello’s nomination has been stalled in Congress at a time when critics are calling ICE a “deportation force” and agitate for its abolition. Homan, who called for a quadrupling of worksite enforcement, stated before leaving his post that ICE was simply enforcing federal laws, not operating on some rogue agenda.

ICE reported that worksite investigations surged in FY 2018 by “300 to 750 percent” over FY 2017. In 2018, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), one of ICE’s three operational directorates, “opened 6,848 worksite investigations compared to 1,691 in FY 17; initiated 5,981 I-9 audits compared to 1,360; and made 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests compared to 139 and 172, respectively . . . .”  Although criminal indictments and convictions have not yet risen, the numbers are expected to increase as the investigations that have been initiated develop.

ICE was created in 2003 by a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the former U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. With a $6-billion budget and more than 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel, ICE does quite a bit more than deport individuals. Among other things, it conducts transnational investigations into smuggling, financial crimes, cybercrimes, exploitation of children, weapons smuggling, trade crimes, narcotics smuggling, identity theft, human rights violations, counter-terrorism, and visa security. It also upholds U.S. immigration law against those who present a danger to U.S. national security, are a threat to public safety, or undermine U.S. immigration laws. It is the Trump Administration’s focus on individuals who allegedly undermine U.S. immigration laws that has led to an exponential increase in worksite enforcement.

There have been many high-profile enforcement actions at meatpacking and agricultural firms, franchises, manufacturing companies, and businesses in sanctuary jurisdictions. ICE reported that in FY 2018, companies had to pay more than $10.2 million in judicial fines, forfeitures, and restitutions and that it levied a similar amount in civil fines. HSI encourages compliance by issuing civil fines in connection with I-9 audits and then, depending upon its audit findings, uses criminal prosecution against employers who knowingly break the law. HSI believes its stepped up enforcement efforts protect U.S. workers, reduce illegal migration, and eliminate any competitive advantage that those who hire illegal workers may enjoy.

If you have any questions about how to prepare in the wake of increased enforcement, reach out to your Jackson Lewis attorney.