Late last month, John Morton, Director of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), warned that ICE would audit the I-9 files of 3,000 employers this year. Next year and in subsequent years, that number will be even higher.
The higher number of I-9 audits is consistent with a change in immigration enforcement policy to focus more rigorously on employers. To meet this goal, in 2011 ICE opened the National Employment Compliance Inspection Center, which houses 15 forensic I-9 auditors.
The center serves as a resource to ICE offices nationwide, speeding up processing times for I-9 audits and increasing the annual number of audits ICE can conduct. Prior to opening the compliance inspection center, most of the fines levied were against relatively small employers, because ICE did not have the infrastructure to support audits of larger employers. The center has allowed ICE to expand its audit reach to large corporations. And, as a result, the 3,000 audits this year promise to hit employers of varying sizes, industries, and locations.
Employers are often shocked at how expensive ICE I-9 audits can be. Fines for even seemingly small technical I-9 paperwork errors can be as much as $1,100 per error, virtually guaranteeing I-9 fines will continue to skyrocket. In 2010, employers paid out nearly $7 million in fines following I-9 audits. By contrast, fines in 2009 totaled only $1 million, and 2008 penalties topped out at $700,000.