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ICE employment verification I-9 audits rise in 2012

Immigration reform has been a hot topic in the media this year. Immigration policy issues have also grabbed headlines, as stories have arisen over the Deferred Action program for young immigrants and the federal immigration policy in deportation and removal proceedings known as prosecutorial discretion.

This blog has covered these issues throughout the year. But it is important for Florida businesses and business owners to understand that immigration policy also has focused strongly on I-9 compliance in 2012.

U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement numbers show that the number of I-9 audits jumped from 250 in 2007 to more than 3,000 businesses nationwide during the 2012 fiscal year. The federal immigration audits in 2012 led to total fines of nearly $13 million and 238 arrests of company managers, according to ICE.

ICE officials say that many companies that are audited for I-9 compliance ultimately do not face a fine. A West Coast ICE agent told the Associated Press that the policy of conducting I-9 audits is geared at least in part on the idea of deterrence. He says that, "If companies know we're out there, looking across the board, they're more likely to bring themselves into compliance," according to the AP.

In the continued debate over potential immigration reform on Capitol Hill, President Obama has indicated that any reform measure should continue to penalize companies that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.

Under current law, businesses are required to have employees complete I-9 forms as a part of the employment verification process. Those forms must be properly filled out, and kept on file. The ICE special agent told AP that he did not have any specific data on the percentage of fines from an I-9 audit the involved technical errors in the I-9 paperwork versus the total amount of fines resulting from allegations that a company hired an undocumented immigrant who was discovered during the audit.

He says that audits are not based upon geographical preferences. Similarly, he says company size and industry are not factors in how ICE chooses what companies to audit for I-9 compliance.

Business owners in Florida can consult with an immigration lawyer familiar with the I-9 compliance requirements for help in understanding the employment verification rules.

Source: Gazette-Mail, "Audits of businesses for illegal immigrants rising," Manuel Valdes--The Associated Press, Dec. 23, 2012

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