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ICE Promises more I-9 Audits
February 21, 2018
President Trump's proposed budget for FY19 includes $47.5 billion for DHS for "strengthening border security, ensuring enforcement of immigration laws, and reforming the legal immigration system." Trump proposed $571 million to hire 2,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officiers and $132 million for E-Verify; Trump called on Congress to require all employers to use E-Verify to check new hires.
Acting Director Thomas Homan in January 2018 said that ICE would increase work site enforcement actions by "four or five times." In contrast to ICE under Obama, which focused on auditing I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Forms, Homan promised to target both employers who hire unauthorized workers and the workers themselves.
Newly hired workers present employers with documents that verify their identity and right to work in the US, and the employee and their employer sign the I-9 form. Employers do not have to verify the authenticity of the documents presented by workers. ICE agents give employers three days to provide I-9 forms for all of their employees.
California's Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) requires employers to demand warrants from ICE agents before allowing them to inspect I-9 forms and to notify their employees of upcoming ICE audits and inform them of the outcomes of ICE audits. Employers can be fined $2,000 to $10,000 a day for violations of AB 450.
After ICE audits, employers receive Notices of Suspect Documents that inform them which workers appear to be unauthorized; employers are instructed to "take action" on suspect employees within 10 days, firing them if they do not clear up discrepancies flagged by ICE.
Employers face fines of $216 to $2,126 for I-9 paperwork violations, and $548 to $4,384 for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers. Employers with a "pattern or practice" of hiring unauthorized workers face criminal penalties. ICE conducted 1,360 I-9 audits around the US in FY17, which led to 139 criminal arrests, 172 administrative arrests, and over $100 million in fines.
NGOs representing migrants report that I-9 audits spread fear of enforcement in migrant communities. In February 2018, ICE conducted I-9 audits at 5,000 employee Pitman Family Farms and the Poindexter Nut Company in Sanger, 500-employee Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler, and citrus packer Fresh Select LLC in Dinuba. Dozens of employees were reportedly dismissed.