I-9 audits skyrocket: Are you next?

By: Darlene Clabault

Publication: I-9 and E-Verify Essentials Manual

Date Posted: 05/17/2018

I-9 Audits Investigations 2018

Less than seven months after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director Thomas Homan issued a directive that called for increased worksite enforcement investigations to ensure U.S. businesses comply with the employment laws, the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has already doubled the amount of ongoing worksite cases this fiscal year compared to the last fully completed fiscal year.

10/1/17 – 5/4/18

10/2016 – 9/2017

Worksite investigations opened


Worksite investigations opened


I-9 audits initiated


I-9 audits initiated


Criminal arrests


Criminal arrests


Administrative-related arrests


Administrative-related arrests


ICE is the federal agency responsible for upholding the laws established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire. These laws help protect jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.

Under federal law, employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals they hire, and to document that information using the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. ICE uses inspections to ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws.

Employers are notified if ICE is going to audit their hiring records to determine whether they are complying with existing law. Employers are required to produce their company’s I-9s within three business days, after which ICE will conduct an inspection for compliance. If employers are not in compliance with the law, an I-9 inspection of their business will likely result in civil fines and could lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution if they are knowingly violating the law. All workers encountered during these investigations who are unauthorized to remain in the United States are subject to administrative arrest and removal from the country.

Failure to follow the law can result in criminal and civil penalties. In FY17, businesses were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines, including one company whose financial penalties represented the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.

ICE has a goal of opening as many as 15,000 investigations a year, and creating an Employer Compliance Inspection Center to perform employer audits at a single location instead of at regional offices. Audit notices would be sent electronically or by certified mail, instead of in person.

About the author
Darlene Clabault - HR Senior Editor

Darlene is a Senior Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and specializes in employment law topics such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Forms I-9 and E-Verify.

Expert Help Icon

Have a compliance question for Darlene? The J. J. Keller Expert Help tool provides you direct access to Darlene and other trusted experts to help answer your toughest compliance questions.