The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Web site boasts big arrests for nearly every business day in March—and oftentimes more than one bust per day.
“They have the resources to build investigative cases,” says Elise Healy, co-founder of the law firm Spencer Crain Cubbage Healy & McNamara. “Increasingly they do use criminal and not administrative charges against employers.”
With the April 3 deadline for the new I-9 employment verification form looming, Healy says that it's more important now than ever to brush up on your procedure for new hires and I-9 form administration.
“The I-9 is intended to be a complete defense [against ICE] if you do it correctly,” she says.
The new version of the form, which is to be used only for new employees filling out the form or for existing employees who need to update theirs, no longer allows employees to submit expired forms of identification. The number of accepted documents has also decreased, following a trend since the form was instituted in the 1990s.
“I think the same practical problems will accompany this new version of the I-9 as have always confronted employers who are trying in good faith to comply with the law,” Healy says. She recommends examining practices regularly and reviewing your existing I-9s to ensure they're in good shape.
Healy also suggests having a designated staff member oversee the handling of I-9 forms who is trained in its intricacies.
“One of the things I think employers don't realize is they are responsible for the new hire completing Section One of these completely and correctly,” Healy says. “They're not going to go after the employee for failing to put in relevant information about himself.”
Plus, employers should know that Section Two has to be filled out completely and correctly within three days of when the new hire starts. During audits, Healy has seen employers who leave this section unsigned or undated, making it impossible to use as a defense.
“If you have 10 or more such persons on your payroll and you are charged with knowingly continuing to employ them, that is a felony,” Healy says. “This gets very serious very quickly, even for small employers. ... Don't put yourself in this position.”
For owners with several locations, having just one or two illegal employees at each location can show a “pattern in practice”—a criminal charge.
Many employers, especially those with multiple locations, are using computer systems to manage the I-9 process, reducing the human error that can leave certain sections blank by mistake.
Whatever your strategy, make sure you have one.
“Be familiar with this and take it seriously,” Healy says. “The government does.”
For more information about the new I-9 form, see the Instructions for Completing the Form I-9 from the USCIS Handbook for Employers.
To download the new I-9 form, click here.