If your hourly workforce includes immigrant workers, have you tightened your relevant HR processes lately? Many businesses have, as the Trump Administration’s focused approach to immigration enforcement creates new pressures for employers and workers alike.
Just this week, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officials conducted the largest workplace raid in over a decade, arresting nearly 700 largely-Latino workers at food processing plants in Mississippi—part of a growing crackdown on U.S. employers.
According to ICE reports, in the 2018 fiscal year, the department has:
- Initiated 5,981 corporate I-9 audits, compared to 1,360 the prior year.
- Opened 6,848 worksite investigations, compared to 1,691 the prior year.
- Made 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite arrests, compared to 139 and 172 the prior year.
In addition, U.S. businesses paid more than $10.2 million in fines in the 2018 fiscal year.
If your workforce includes recent immigrants, your HR department must run a tight ship. That includes keeping I-9 records in impeccable order, being audit-ready, and putting an action plan in place should ICE come calling.
While there is no substitute for your own legal counsel, you may find these general employer guidelines—culled from sources including the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association—a helpful starting point.
How to Be I-9 Audit Ready
The best way to prepare for an I-9 audit is to practice good prevention. Although I-9 forms—which confirm a worker’s identity as well as his/her authorization to work in the U.S.—are notoriously complex, make a point of keeping meticulous records.
If you haven’t already, conduct an internal I-9 audit—and do so regularly. Rectify all errors, which according to SHRM, often include failing to fill-in forms completely, failing to do so on time, and accepting fraudulent documents.
Training deficits often contribute to the problem, so make sure HR staff and managers are properly trained on I-9s.
How do you know you’re about to be audited? ICE will serve you with a Notice of Inspection, asking you to produce certain I-9 forms within three days, possibly along with E-Verify confirmations if you have them, payroll records, and more. Should you receive a notice, contact your legal counsel immediately.
How to Prepare for an ICE Raid
Unlike I-9 audits, ICE raids take place without warning. To minimize the resulting chaos, advocates recommend that employers with a large immigrant workforce create a rapid response plan, which would typically include:
- Designating a management employee to serve as liaison with ICE.
- Designating an employee to immediately notify your attorney.
- Connecting in advance with immigration support groups who can respond if called upon. (The recent Mississippi raid, for example, left children returning from their first day of school to return to empty homes.)
- Learning your rights as an employer, and training managers accordingly. For example, ICE agents can enter public areas of your workplace, but can’t enter private areas without a judicial warrant or permission.
- Learning the rights of your employees, and sharing that information. For example, workers have the right to remain silent and request an attorney. Some employers choose to provide workers with “know your rights” cards preemptively.
- Educating managers and workers on what they should and should not do.
- Designating employees to videotape the raid and/or take detailed notes about what occurred.
After an ICE raid, it’s normal for morale to drop. Advocates recommend employers provide affected workers with leave, pay wages owed as quickly as possible, and connect families with local immigration support groups. This not only helps impacted workers, but demonstrates your overall commitment to your workforce.
Tighten Your HR Practices Regarding Immigrant Workers
There are several simple steps employers with an immigrant workforce can take to improve compliance, including:
Start Using the E-Verify Database
Only a fraction of public employers currently use E-Verify, a largely-voluntary government database that confirms employees’ eligibility to work. It operates by comparing workers’ I-9s to other Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records, providing employers with immediate results that go beyond the I-9. When you have EPAY’s HCM system, you can elect to integrate with the E-Verify database or outsource your entire E-Verify workflow to us.
Brush up on Your I-9 Form Completion Practices
I-9 compliance is so complicated, the government has generated 900+ pages of guidelines about it. For straightforward clarity, watch EPAY's on-demand webinar of I-9 best practices. It’s free, it’s one-hour long, and you may be eligible for one SHRM Professional Development Credit.
Every era brings its own set of challenges to employers—and the current heated climate regarding immigration enforcement is no exception. The more complex, conflicted, and emotional a challenge may be, the more important it is for employers to be as informed and prepared as possible.