On April 3rd, U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) largest worksite compliance operation hit the private company CVE Technology Group (CVE) and four of CVE’s staffing companies in Texas.  ICE executed criminal search warrants and arrested approximately 280 CVE employees who, according to ICE, were working unlawfully.  Each arrested employee will be fingerprinted and processed by ICE for removal from the United States.  Approximately 200 ICE officers took part in the raid, including manning busses to remove the alleged unauthorized workers and patrolling the area with helicopters.  ICE wants our attention and they got it with the scope and size of this raid.

Why Raid?

The raid, according to ICE, is part of a larger, ongoing investigation and likely involves the company’s management and executive officials. ICE announced that it received tips from various sources that CVE knowingly hired unauthorized workers and that many other employees presented fraudulent documents during the I-9 process.  ICE verified the allegations through an I-9 audit, which revealed noncompliance and hiring irregularities.  Knowingly hiring unauthorized workers carries criminal liability as well as civil monetary fines for failure to comply with immigration law, including I-9 compliance.  Criminal charges can include harboring, alien smuggling, conspiracy and money laundering.

Culture of Compliance

ICE says it is building a culture of compliance. The agency is getting the attention of employers through a dramatic and continued rise in the number of I-9 compliance audits coupled with an increasing number of high profile raids with civil and criminal arrests.  ICE continues to conduct I-9 audits looking for technical and substantive mistakes that can result in significant monetary fines. In fiscal year 2018, ICE opened 6,848 worksite investigations compared to 1,691 in FY17; initiated 5,981 I-9 audits compared to 1,360; and made 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests compared to 139 and 172, respectively; all of these categories surged by 300 to 750 percent over the previous fiscal year.

What does this all mean for U.S. employers?

As ICE escalates its worksite enforcement actions, all employers are at risk, not just those engaging in criminal activity. For any U.S. employer, it’s time to pay attention to worksite enforcement and compliance because these issues are not going away.  General good housekeeping can still go a long way to mitigating I-9 problems, including conducting regular internal audits, ensuring consistent I-9 and other immigration practices are consistent across the board, and taking other actions to present good faith compliance efforts.  This will place your company in better position to survive an ICE raid.

Natalie Tynan is a former DHS lawyer who focuses on immigration compliance and related issues.