- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Obama administration is targeting a major segment of U.S. businesses nationwide, requiring as many as 1,000 employers to make available their employment records for review by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as part of a newly reinstituted law enforcement initiative against illegal immigration.

“The inspections will touch on employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation — no one industry is being targeted nor is any one industry immune from scrutiny,” ICE said. ICE declined to name the businesses to be inspected.

The new audits are an expansion of a work-site enforcement program that began in April 2009 when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued guidelines calling on ICE to focus its resources on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers in order to target the root cause of illegal immigration.

At the time, Ms. Napolitano said ICE would continue to arrest and process for removal any illegal workers who were found in the course of the work-site enforcement actions in a manner consistent with immigration law and Homeland Security priorities.

She also said ICE would use all available civil and administrative tools, including civil fines and debarment, to penalize and deter illegal employment.

Nearly 3,600 U.S. companies have been audited since the program began, with more than $50 million in fines having been collected.

ICE has the responsibility of enforcing the law and engaging in effective work-site enforcement to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful work force.

The agency maintains a work-site-enforcement strategy that addresses employers who knowingly hire illegal workers as well as the workers themselves.

The new audit targets are expected to be made public in the next several days.

The ICE enforcement effort, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, will be aimed at employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

This is a change from George W. Bush administration policies, under which ICE agents focused on the undocumented workers.

They were detained and then deported if they had no criminal records or warrants and were incarcerated if they did.

In 2008, 6,000 arrests were made during work-site enforcement actions; just 135 of them were of employers.

Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of each new hire.

This is done through a document known as Form 1-9, or the Employment Eligibility Verification form, which all U.S. employers must complete and retain for each person they hire for employment in the United States.

The form includes citizens and noncitizens and requires the employer to examine the employment eligibility and identity documents an employee presents to determine whether employees “reasonably appear to be genuine and relate to the individual and record the document information on the Form I-9.”

Civil fines for paperwork violations range from $100 to $1,100 for each violation, and fines for substantive violations — employing an unauthorized worker — range from $375 to $16,000.

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