Immigration worksite enforcement soared in 2018

Investigations at the worksite, audits of Forms I-9 and arrests of employees on immigration issues skyrocketed in fiscal year 2018 compared to the previous year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, SHRM reports, indicate that worksite investigations were up by more than 300 percent, and I-9 audits and charges filed were at 10-year highs.

In FY 2017, ICE opened 1,691 worksite investigations, but in FY 2018 that jumped to 6,848 investigations by September 30. In addition, the number of I-9 audits initiated rose from FY 2017’s 1,360 to 5,981 in FY 2018. More than 2,300 people were arrested at work in FY 2018, more than seven times the number in the year before.

Workplace arrests, according to Alex Nowrasteh, a senior immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., are classified into two categories: criminal, which includes such violations as identity fraud, and administrative, which includes civil violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act like being in the country without authorization.

FY 2018’s ICE arrests break down as follows: 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related. For FY 2017, the numbers were 139 criminal and 172 administrative.

“The number of arrests peaked in 2008 at 6,287 after several steady years of increases, but then declined during [Barack] Obama’s presidency with a single blip in 2011,” Nowrasteh told SHRM. “As a share of all ICE administrative arrests, those conducted at worksites are up about 10.7 times over 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, and 8.8-fold since 2017.”

While criminal indictments and convictions were pretty close to the same for both years—with 72 managers indicted in FY 2018, compared with 71 the year before, and 49 managers convicted compared with 55 in FY 2017—numbers are expected to climb due to current ongoing investigations, according to ICE.

Form I-9 audits are seeing a big upsurge in activity, with ICE quadrupling I-9 audits under the Trump administration from 2017 to 2018; it sent out 88 percent of the 5,981 notices of inspection during two periods: January 29 through March 30 and July 16–20.

Then there are the financial penalties. Employers were ordered to pay $10.2 million in civil penalties in FY 2018 for employing unauthorized workers that’s up from $7.8 million in FY 2017. Businesses were ordered to pay another $10.2 million in judicial fines, forfeitures and restitutions in FY 2018, although that’s down from $96.7 million the year before.

The 2017 figure is so large thanks to a record $95 million judgment against a tree-trimming company for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers, and the investigation in that case was begun during the Obama administration.

Employers should know there’s more to come. According to Derek Benner, executive associate director of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, the agency is hiring 60 more auditors and intends to conduct more direct outreach to employers, adopt new technology to speed up audits and create a centralized auditing center to streamline the entire process.

Not everybody is happy about it, either. The report cites Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of small-business owners, saying that the increase in worksite enforcement punishes employers having a tough time finding enough workers to meet demand. Jacoby called for reforms to guest-worker programs to make it easier for U.S. businesses to maintain their workforces.

Posted 11:00 AM

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