Employers Targeted in Drive Against Illegal Employment

As part of its crackdown on illegal immigration, the federal government recently initiated a new round of employer investigations to ensure that businesses hire only individuals authorized to work in the United States. About 1,000 businesses, large and small, would receive I-9 audit notices from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The businesses will be facing inspection of I-9 forms, which employers are required to complete for each employee hired after November 6, 1986. The employee must provide a document or a combination of documents to establish identity and employment authorization.

These companies, whose names have been withheld, have been selected based on information or tips of improper hiring practices. They are engaged in businesses related to critical infrastructure and key resources, such as agriculture, banking, commercial nuclear reactors, postal and shipping services, health care and transportation.

Since the beginning of fiscal year 2011 last October, the Obama administration has initiated more than 2,300 employer audits as part of its ramped-up efforts in immigration enforcement. This number is already greater than all audits conducted during the 2010 fiscal year. Compared to the workplace raids and worker arrests that were done during the previous administration, this administration has focused on workplace investigations.

The paper I-9 form, which is required of all employers, is also central to the E-verify system. E-verify is an internet-based program that allows an employer to check an employee’s information against DHS and Social Security Administration(SSA) records, and to deny employment to those found ineligible to work. Currently almost 250,000 employers are signed up for E-verify but participation remains voluntary.

A bill introduced recently by Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas would make employment eligibility verification mandatory for all employers in the United States.

The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2164) would require employers to enroll in a nationwide Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS) to be used for new hires.

Participation would be phased-in over a period of 2 years. Large employers or those with more than 10,000 employees must use EEVS within 6 months from the law’s enactment, while employers with 1 to 19 employees have 2 years to start using the system. Agricultural employers have 3 years from enactment to use EEVS for new hires.

Re-verification of current employees, while generally not required, would be mandatory for employees working in the government and in federal or state contracts. It would also be mandatory for employees with limited periods of work authorization and those working at critical infrastructure sites.

The bill imposes increased civil penalties for employers who hire unauthorized employees, including a maximum fine of $25,000 for paperwork violations, unless they can claim a “good faith” exemption. Employers that are engaged in a pattern or practice of violations or that knowingly hire unauthorized employees face imprisonment of at least one year and a fine of $15,000 for each unauthorized worker.

Workers would face fines and a possible two-year imprisonment for knowingly providing false Social Security numbers and identification. There is an enhanced penalty if identity theft is also committed.

The bill allows the SSA to block the use of a Social Security number in case of unusual multiple use or when the visa of a noncitizen has expired. The agency would also send notices to employers submitting mismatched or corrected wage and tax statements. An individual worker would also be able to block the use of his/her number in case of unauthorized use by another person.