At a signing ceremony on April 12, 2012, New York aerospace company Ellanef Manufacturing Corporation entered into an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to participate in an employment compliance program. Another New York employer, the document hosting company microMedia Imaging Systems, Inc., joined the program the same day, at a separate ceremony. The program, entitled ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE), is a “voluntary partnership” between employers and the federal government with the goal to “maintain a lawful workforce.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its agencies, including ICE and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations office (HSI), have significantly stepped up monitoring and enforcement of immigration employment laws, including more audits of employers’ I-9 files and prosecutions of non-compliant employers. Although participation in IMAGE is not mandatory, businesses need to understand the program’s features and their own responsibilities for verifying the employment eligibility of their workers.
Companies that want to participate in the IMAGE program must meet certain requirements set out by ICE. First, an employer must enroll in the E-Verify program within two months of applying to IMAGE. E-Verify is an online system that allows an employer to check a new employee’s work authorization against several databases maintained by DHS and other federal agencies. Participation in E-Verify is usually also voluntary, but it is gaining in popularity among employers around the country. ICE also requires employers applying to IMAGE to develop a written policy for verifying employee’s work eligibility and for conducting annual audits of employees’ I-9 information. Employers must allow ICE to audit their I-9 records. Finally, they must sign a “partnership agreement” developed by ICE.
Employers enrolling in the IMAGE program give ICE the right to review employment records and other employee information. In exchange for performing the tasks described above and allowing ICE to audit its files, ICE makes several promises to employers in the IMAGE partnership agreement. Unless ICE has intelligence of a specific violation of an employment regulation, it will not audit an employer’s I-9 files for at least two years after the initial audit. In the event that the audit identifies discrepancies between information on an I-9 form and other employee information, ICE will give the employer “ample time” to fix the problem. It will also waive or mitigate any fines for violations found during the audit, if less than half of the I-9’s are not in compliance. If more than half of the I-9 forms include violations of employment regulations, ICE will only fine the employer the statutory minimum amount of $110 for each violation.
Because of DHS’s increased focus on employee eligibility and compliance, employers must take great care in checking and verifying their employees’ information. Employers face monetary fines and arrest for non-compliance. ICE reportedly arrested 221 employers between 2008 and 2011 for violations of employment regulations, and it assessed more than $10 million in fines during that time. It conducted 503 I-9 audits in 2008. By 2011, the number of annual I-9 audits conducted by ICE had jumped to 2,496.
The New York and New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.
ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (PDF), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
More Blog Posts:
USCIS Announces Revisions to Form Used to Verify Employees’ Eligibility to Work, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 29, 2012
Low-Income New Jersey Immigrants Fight Wage Theft, Other Violations of Workplace Laws, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, February 9, 2012
USCIS Plans to Expand Its “Self Check” Program Nationwide, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 29, 2011
Photo credit: ‘Ready to fly’ by George Simonyan [CC BY 2.0], via fotocommunity.