Undocumented or improperly documented workers can turn your business into a horrific scene, with million-dollar fines and even jail time for owners and managers.

In 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ramping up raids and inspections of employers large and small. Restaurants, car dealerships, landscaping companies, construction contractors and others are receiving the chilling I-9 Notice of Inspection.

The explosion in ICE I-9 audits — 3,000 conducted last summer and a stated goal of 10,000 to 15,000 audits and inspections every year.

ICE raids are back with a vengeance after a 10-year absence. One in Mississippi last year led to 680 workers being detained.

Do business owners go to jail? Ask the owner of a raided slaughterhouse in Tennessee.

Common Sense CounselWhat does this new Trump policy of “building an employer wall” mean for employers? Hint, the “employer wall inspection” is an ICE I-9 Notice of Inspection. These are highly impactful, in order to discourage employers from hiring those not authorized to work in this country, and impose large fines on employers who do so, even just for making technical errors in completion of their Form I-9s.

For violations, a civil penalty could reach $21,563 for each person illegally employed. For violations of simple record keeping, civil penalties could reach $2,156 for each I-9 Form containing substantive violations or uncorrected technical violations. The best strategy for employers is to have their own in-house self-audit before ICE shows up unexpectedly.

The following steps are recommended:

Conducting periodic self-audits of your I-9s using an outside professional is the single best action to reduce your violation risk.

Adopt practices and review any audit deficiencies or corrective action needed with your worksite immigration counsel.

Particular attention should be given to cases where concerns are raised (E-Verify issues a Tentative Nonconfirmation — TNC which goes unresolved) about the legal status of the employee despite the I-9 documents presented by the employee.

Saving a copy of the authorization to work documentation presented by the employee, and the E-Verify authorization to work documentation, for all hires is a wise practice.

Prepare yourself by having a procedure to follow if and when ICE agents arrive. The front-desk personnel need to be trained about who is to be contacted, and they should know not to provide any other information to ICE. The employer’s procedure also should include who is to be the employer’s lead contact with ICE.

Know where your I-9s are maintained. Although employers have three business days to provide the I-9s, that time can pass quickly if the documents cannot be located or if the I-9s are at an off-site location

And know whom you will call for wise counsel when ICE comes knocking.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, and can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901.

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