Heads up, business owners.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — better known as ICE — will be reviewing employee documents in coming months at more than 1,000 businesses nationwide, including many across the state.
Those reviews will focus mostly on the I-9 forms used by employers to verify a worker’s identity and legal status. Most of the reviewed businesses will be companies vital to national security or performing other government and financial functions, but almost any business is subject to inspection at any time.
“Business owners need to understand that employee records need to be as accurate and up to date as tax files and bank records,” said Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for ICE in Seattle. “These reviews are a step towards building a culture of compliance.”
Fines for I-9 violations range from $110 to $1,100 for one single minor or technical violation, but using incorrect I-9 forms to hire an illegal alien can result in a fine of up to $3,200 per violation.
Clearly, this is no time for business owners to slack off.
“Employers must take the ICE investigations very seriously,” said Patrick Connor, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the state’s leading small-business association with offices in Olympia.
The group offers tips to prepare for an ICE investigation:
• Make sure all I-9 forms are completed correctly and accurately for all new hires.
• Remember: No small businesses are exempt from I-9 compliance.
• Make sure new employees complete section one of the I-9 on the first day of work. Accept only original documents, not photocopies.
• Keep I-9 forms separate from other human resources files. A separate file should be kept for terminated employees.
• Conduct an in-house audit of I-9 forms and correct mistakes. Do not back-date any mistakes or use white out. Cross out incorrect information, add correct information, initial and insert current date.
• Contact an attorney immediately if you receive notice from ICE. The agency only provides 72 hours to assemble the requested documentation, so act quickly.
The NFIB employment hotline at 866-678-NFIB is available to assist members with I-9 and immigration questions.