This past week’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement nationwide I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Audit of 7-Eleven stores reminds us that no one is above the law. In the early morning hours of January 10, 2018, ICE reportedly visited 98 7-Eleven locations and made 21 arrests in what is being called the largest worksite compliance operation targeting an employer since President Trump took office. The agency’s intent is clear as delivered by ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan:
“Today's actions send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce: ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable. Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration and we are working hard to remove this magnet. ICE will continue its efforts to protect jobs for American workers by eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that exploit illegal immigration.”
Although audits and raids are often the results of investigative leads and intelligence, ICE has in recent years focused on those businesses connected to public safety and national security, including privately-owned critical infrastructure and key resources. However, the 7-Eleven audit makes it clear that the agency is serious about enforcing the Trump Administration’s interior enforcement principles.
To accomplish these principles, the Administration has called for hiring an additional 10,000 ICE officers and 300 Federal prosecutors with a goal of preventing employers from hiring illegal alien labor and displacing U.S. workers, which it believes will improve job opportunities and raise wages for Americans.
In light of the Administration’s worksite compliance and enforcement priorities, now is not the time for employers to be complacent about their obligations to ensure a legal workforce. Employers should step up vigilance and ask:
- Are we prepared to handle an ICE worksite enforcement action and do we understand its dynamics?
- Do we understand what it means to have constructive knowledge of unauthorized employment?
- Do we conduct regular internal I-9 audits and training and are we able to spot issues and fraudulent documents and identify corporate exposure?
- Have we reviewed company immigration corporate compliance programs including Sarbanes-Oxley considerations at the worksite, corporate due diligence in mergers and acquisitions, subcontractor liability, and the pros and cons of registering for E-verify?
If the answer to any of these questions is no or I’m not sure, it’s time to take action and carpe diem.
Jennifer Cory, head of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP's Business Immigration Solutions practice, can answer additional questions about the issues raised in this client alert. Please feel free to contact her or the Womble Immigration Solutions team.