The results of the Obama Administration's aggressive I-9 Audit Program were evident in recent public announcements that, in the recently-concluded fiscal year 2012, employers in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts were assessed significant fines totaling more than $561,000 for immigration law violations. The 37 employers were audited by Homeland Security Investigations of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Similar penalties also have been assessed in other regions of the country.
The I-9 audits got the HSI in these companies' doors, but once inside, investigators found evidence of more serious violations, including hiring of unauthorized workers.
The government press releases focused on both the I-9 and hiring violations, according to a statement from Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of HSI Boston:
We encourage employers to take the employment verification process seriously, as we expand the number of audits we are conducting throughout Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts each year. My agency will continue to focus its attention on employers that are knowingly employing illegal workers and will continue to target specific industries and businesses known or alleged to hire illegals.
HSI also reminded the public that criminal indictments, arrests and penalties await employers for more serious immigration law violations, such as mistreatment of illegal workers (for example, by not paying wages as required by state and federal law), along with trafficking, smuggling or harboring illegal workers, visa fraud, or money laundering.
To avoid being targeted and to be successful when audits do occur, employers should be diligent in meeting their two-fold obligations under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986:
(1) employers should comply with their I-9 employment verification responsibilies, which includes periodic self-audits and correction of any errors found, and
(2) employers should refuse to knowingly employ or continue to employ unauthorized workers.
In addition, employers should obviously avoid any conduct that could trigger a criminal investigation.
If you have any questions, please contact any member of Constangy's Immigration Law Practice Group, or the Constangy attorney of your choice.