Ten years ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched the Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers program, commonly known as “IMAGE.” The program exists to help ICE build a stronger partnership with employers through outreach and education, enhance compliant hiring practices, and reduce the employment of unauthorized workers.
It is important to keep in mind that IMAGE, unlike E-Verify, is not an employment-verification program. Instead, it is a program where ICE and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provide education and training on proper, non-discriminatory hiring processes, fraudulent document detection, and E-Verify.
Participation in IMAGE is entirely voluntary. To enroll, the employer completes a self-assessment questionnaire, which also serves as an application for participation, and signs the IMAGE Agreement. The agreement requires the employer to take the following actions:
- Enroll in E-Verify within 60 days of the application date.
- Within 120 days, establish or provide evidence of existing hiring procedures and an employment eligibility verification program. The procedure must include at least one annual internal I-9 audit and address how the employer prevents hiring unauthorized workers.
- Submit to an I-9 inspection allowing ICE to identify any deficiencies to be resolved.
- Participate in the Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) for payroll purposes, not for employee verification.
- Establish an internal worksite compliance training program.
- Establish a procedure for responding to credible tips from employees relating to possible unauthorized workers and report to ICE when there is credible information of suspicious conduct in the verification process.
- Establish procedures to self-report violations or deficiencies to ICE.
- Maintain copies of any documents accepted as I-9 documentation for all new hires.
In return, ICE agrees to:
- Waive potential fines if fewer than 50 percent of the employer’s I-9s contain substantive violations. If more than 50 percent of the employer’s I-9s contain substantive violations, ICE will either mitigate the fines or impose the minimum fine ($216 starting August 1, 2016) per violation.
- Not conduct an I-9 audit for two years, unless there is credible information that the employer is engaging in knowingly employing unauthorized workers.
- Acknowledge the company publicly as an IMAGE-Certified Employer.
ICE is actively recruiting employers to participate in the program. Before enrolling, employers should examine their existing internal employment verification policies and procedures carefully, such as the use of E-Verify, their internal I-9 audit schedules, and their onboarding processes. Next, employers should consider whether they are already using all of the available resources to ensure compliance, and finally, weigh the pros and cons of allowing the government to reach further into the business. Although the goal of IMAGE is to strengthen the partnership between the federal government and employers, it is important to remember that enforcing immigration law is ICE’s number-one responsibility.