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Government opens office to focus on I-9 compliance audits

The Obama administration has created an audit office in an effort to bolster a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. The Employment Compliance Inspection Center reportedly will be staffed with personnel to audit I-9 employee files from companies that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has targeted for the audits.

Immigration officials audited more than 2,740 companies last year resulting in a record $7 million in civil fines related to I-9 employment verification compliance issues. The number of companies audited last year was nearly twice the number of companies audited in 2009. Now the administration has created an office devoted specifically to I-9 audits. The crackdown on employers through the new office dedicated solely to I-9 compliance auditing is expected to increase the number of companies audited in 2011.

The Obama administration has focused on employers in its immigration policy, conducting what many call "silent raids." The "silent raids" seek information through I-9 audits, unlike raids during the previous administration where ICE officials entered premises and made arrests of workers on a large scale basis.

The new audit office will support regional immigration offices in conducting large offices. Critics of the Obama administration policy in the past say the silent raids penalize smaller employers. The administration says the new audit office will be more able to conduct large audit operations.

ICE chief John Morton says the Employment Compliance Inspection Center "wouldn't be limited by the size of a company" in conducting its audits. An ICE spokeswoman reportedly has said "it is in a company's best financial interest to proactively comply with the law."

Many fruit growers and meat packers have been affected by previous audits. The audits usually result in the firing of all illegal immigrants on a company's payroll. The businesses can have a difficult time attracting replacement workers, even during the recession.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Crackdown on Illegal Workers Grows," Miriam Jordan 20 Jan 2011

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