Like it or not, I-9 audits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are on the rise, and the trend is here to stay. The U.S. government considers the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws a top priority and I-9 audits are also very lucrative. In 2011 alone, Department of Homeland Security collected over $10 million in fines, after more than 2,500 audits.
Civil fines can range from $100 to $1,100 per I-9 violation, even when omissions and mistakes are unintentional. In determining penalty amounts, ICE considers the size of the company, good faith effort to comply, seriousness of the violations, whether the violations involved unauthorized workers, and history of previous violations. Fines levied by ICE have exceeded a million dollars.
Recent developments indicate that ICE has recently issued a new wave of Notices of Inspection, or NOIs, of companies' I-9 forms. This means a company that fills out Form I-9 and views documentary evidence should not consider its worries over.
To ensure compliance with I-9 requirements, I-9 audits should be conducted regularly by a qualified I-9 specialist. A second set of trained eyes can uncover errors on the forms, missing deadlines, using wrong versions of Form I-9, etc. Any reduction in error rates, no matter how small, can result in a significant impact on the total fines.
Finally, having engaged outside I-9 specialists can also be used to show the company’s good faith in complying with the law and is a factor often cited by ICE and judges in determining fines.