AGC Represented at DHS Symposium Where ICE Announces New E-Verify Campaign & Additional I-9 Audits
On November 19, 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with two agencies housed under its umbrella, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), hosted a workforce symposium in Washington, D.C., which AGC attended along with approximately 200 of the nation's top immigration lawyers, employer associations, and a handful of employers. With high-ranking DHS officials in attendance, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton, and USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, the symposium was designed to increase the dialogue between DHS and employers across the country.
The platform for the day's events was used to launch the new DHS "I E-Verify" campaign, a series of public service announcements and worksite publicity resources to publicly recognize the approximately 170,000 businesses that use USCIS's Internet-based employment verification system, E-Verify. "The 'I E-Verify' program will let consumers know which businesses are working hard to follow the law and are committed to protecting employment opportunities," said Secretary Napolitano. According to DHS, more than 7.9 million queries have been run though the system since January 2009, with an average of 2000 new federal contractor registrants per week since federal contractor use of E-Verify became mandatory in September 2009.
While the morning was spent discussing E-Verify and the concerns of using it, most of the afternoon was spent discussing ICE's enforcement initiatives after a mid-day announcement that "today, ICE is issuing 1,000 Notices of Inspections (NOIs) to employers associated with critical infrastructure." The NOIs mean that ICE will be auditing each of the employers' hiring records, specifically Form I-9s, to determine employment eligibility compliance. According to ICE, the notices were sent to companies as a result of investigative leads and intelligence, and is the first step to ensuring the safety of the nation with regard to employing illegal workers in connection with public safety and infrastructure. This is the second round of I-9 audits issued this year alone, following 652 notices served just four months earlier, of which approximately half of the businesses served were found to be in compliance, according to DHS. Of the remaining businesses served, approximately $2 million in fines have been assessed so far, specifically for substantive, criminal violations. The names of the companies served in both audits were not released.
Although these fines were issued for more severe violations than just erroneous mistakes, it is important for employers to be prepared for possible I-9 audits and investigations by ensuring full compliance with I-9 recordkeeping requirements, specifically by performing regular in-house audits and training staff who administer I-9 forms and enter employee data into the E-Verify system.
For additional, background information on the first round of ICE audits, including links to official documents regarding the government's intent to crack down on employers hiring illegal workers, read AGC's article Federal Government Makes Employers Subject of Immigration Enforcement with I-9 and E-Verify Audits.
*Note: Please visit the AGC Bookstore to purchase an MP3 download of "Immigration Compliance for the Construction Industry" presented by attorney David Whitlock of Elarbee Thompson, recorded live on October 29, 2009, at AGC's HR Professionals Conference in Atlanta, GA. All purchases will include a 25-page guide entitled "I-9 Compliance Guidelines" presented by Elarbee Thompson's Immigration Practice Group and a copy of the PowerPoint presentation delivered during the live session.
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