Imagine you manage a large factory with hundreds of employees, many of whom have years of experience. You pride yourself on running an efficient line, filling orders on time, and keeping big-name customers happy.
One day, more than a third of your workforce doesn’t show up. Suddenly, you’re scrambling to find and train workers. You start missing shipments — and losing customers.
That exact scenario played out last summer at Cloverhill Bakery in Chicago. According to CNN, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted an I-9 audit of the staffing agency that supplied many Cloverhill employees, and discovered that about 800 employees were working without the necessary papers. Little Debbie snack cakes and other big brands pulled their business, and Cloverhill’s revenues fell.
Similar scenarios are playing out throughout the US at businesses large and small. From 7-Eleven stores and family-owned restaurants to meatpacking plants, ICE is delivering on its pledge to step up enforcement and increase fines.
More Investigations, Greater Stakes
Last December, ICE deputy director Tom Homan vowed a 400 percent increase in worksite operations. Just seven months into FY18, ICE has conducted 3,510 investigations and 2,282 I-9 audits, compared to 1,716 investigations and 1,360 audits in all of FY17. And the rates are headed even higher: ICE intends to conduct up to 15,000 I-9 audits each year as investigations go digital.
Meanwhile, ICE has changed how it calculates penalties, increasing fines for employers. For FY17, companies were penalized $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines, and restitution. Many firms are still using paper forms, which are prone to error. In fact, Sue Kohlwey of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) notes that 76 percent of paper I-9s contain at least one fineable error.
Protecting Your Business
While only comprehensive immigration reform can truly solve the challenge, you can defend your business (and bottom line) from ICE by taking some proactive measures.
Start by auditing your existing I-9 processes and forms. Make sure that your procedures don’t discriminate on the basis of national origin, race, or any other factor. Establish and follow record retention policies that comply with ICE rules, particularly around retaining records of former employees.
After your initial review, conduct an annual audit and pay attention to changes to ICE requirements and forms.
By staying on top of requirements and diligently documenting your employees’ work status, you can avoid major ICE headaches.