The chances that employers could receive a visit from immigration officers have increased, confirms Keith Anderson, an attorney with the law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.
In the state of Mississippi alone Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents recently conducted raids at eight Asian restaurants reportedly detaining 55 illegal immigrant employees.
One immigration advocate was quoted asserting that these enforcement raids have “blown up” recently throughout the states in the Deep South.
However, employers in other areas of the country should not be complacent because the ICE website also reports the arrests of 248 undocumented workers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware in recent months.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the ICE raids were part of “a series of targeted enforcement operations” seeking to apprehend illegal immigrants.
“For years, ICE has prioritized detaining undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime,” Anderson points out.
“These raids suggest a broader approach under the Trump administration with ICE making so-called ‘collateral arrests’ – checking employee papers during raids and detaining anyone who is undocumented.,” he observes.
However, Thomas Byrd, spokesman for ICE’s New Orleans field office, which oversees immigration enforcement in multiple states in the Southeast, said “ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” he argues.
Since 1986 employers have been required to check the work authorization of every worker using the widely-familiar Form I-9.
In 2012, ICE developed a “comprehensive worksite enforcement strategy” describing its focus on critical infrastructure worksites and employers who exploit undocumented workers.
The Citizenship and Immigration Service’s revised Form I-9 became mandatory for employers the day following President Trump’s inauguration.
The increased emphasis on immigration enforcement carries the risk of heavy civil penalties and even potential prison time for knowingly employing undocumented workers, Anderson stresses.
He recommends that businesses should, at the very least, take the following steps:
- Ensure that I-9s are in order and conduct periodic internal audits to assess the status of all I-9s.
- Make sure that your worksites and staffs have proper training for I-9 implementation.
- Enroll in and utilize E-Verify, an Internet system that allows businesses to assess the status of their employees. Although E-Verify is generally voluntary, it is mandatory for federal contractors and also may be required under some state laws, so employers should check those states where they have worksites for E-Verify requirements.
- If ICE does pay a visit to a worksite, remember that it must have a warrant to enter a business or arrest an employee. “You should not panic or refuse to speak to them, but you and your employees do have the right to remain silent and speak to a lawyer,” Anderson notes.
In the past ICE provided notice of a prospective audit, but he says recent enforcement efforts were unannounced and reflect an expansive shift.
“ICE’s targeted enforcement actions may be intended to promote the concept of ‘self-deportation,’ where illegal immigrants leave the country voluntarily rather than through actual involuntary, forced deportation,” Anderson says.