SEATTLE (AP) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reached its highest number yet of companies audited for illegal immigrants on their payrolls this past fiscal year.
Audits of employer I-9 forms increased from 250 in fiscal 2007 to more than 3,000 in fiscal 2012. From fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2012, the total amount of fines grew to nearly $13 million from $1 million. The number of company managers arrested has increased to 238, according to data provided by ICE.
The investigations of companies have been one of the pillars of President Obama’s immigration policy.
When Mr. Obama recently spoke about addressing immigration reform in his second term, he said any measure should contain penalties for companies that purposely hire illegal immigrants. It’s not a new stand, but one he likely will highlight as his administration launches efforts to revamp the nation’s immigration system.
“Our goal is compliance and deterrence,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge at ICE’s Seattle office. “The majority of the companies we do audits on end up with no fines at all, but again it’s part of the deterrence method. If companies know we’re out there, looking across the board, they’re more likely to bring themselves into compliance.”
While the administration has used those numbers to bolster their record on immigration enforcement, advocates say the audits have pushed workers further underground by causing mass layoffs and disrupted business practices.
When the ICEaudit letter arrived at Belco Forest Products, management wasn’t entirely surprised. Two nearby businesses in Shelton, a small timber town on a bay off Washington state’s Puget Sound, already had been investigated.
But the 2010 inquiry became a months-long process that cost the timber company experienced workers and money. It was fined $17,700 for technicalities on their record-keeping.
“What I don’t like is the roll of the dice,” said Belco’s chief financial officer, Tom Behrens. “Why do some companies get audited and some don’t? Either everyone gets audited or nobody does. Level the playing field.”
Belco was one of 339 companies fined in fiscal 2011 and one of thousands audited that year.
Employers are required to have their workers fill out an I-9 form that declares them authorized to work in the country. Currently, an employer needs only to verify that identifying documents look real.
The audits, part of a $138 million worksite enforcement effort, rely on ICE officers scouring payroll records to find names that don’t match Social Security numbers and other identification databases.
The audits “don’t make any sense before a legalization program,” said Daniel Costa, an immigration policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in the nation’s capital. “You’re leaving the whole thing up to an employer’s eyesight and subjective judgment — that’s the failure of the law. There’s no verification at all. Then [what] you have is the government making a subjective judgment about subjective judgment.”
An AP review of audits that resulted in fines in fiscal 2011 shows that the federal government is fining industries across the country that rely on manual labor and historically have hired immigrants. The data provides a glimpse into the results of a process affecting thousands of companies and thousands of workers nationwide.
Over the years, ICE has switched back and forth between making names of the companies fined public or not. Lately, ICE has emphasized its criminal investigations of managers, such as a Dunkin’ Donuts manager in Maine sentenced to home arrest for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, or a manager of an Illinois hiring firm who got 18 months in prison.View Entire Story
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