Business owners shouldn’t take lightly the prospect of getting investigated by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said immigration lawyers Polly Ellingson and Jerome Grzeca at this week’s National HR in Hospitality Conference in Washington, D.C. According to Grzeca, ICE actively seeks to apply felony conspiracies such as money laundering to immigration law in an effort to build high-profile cases. Fines can pile up into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“If they consider these [immigration hiring] violations to be egregious, they are going to take everything you own,” said Ellingson.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent a minor oversight from turning into a devastating blow for your business.
- Have a policy in place. Immigration HR guidelines are murky. Laws differ from state to state, and unions can often make demands regarding how employers are allowed to handle suspected illegal immigration. The easiest way to protect yourself is to be consistent with your actions, and a policy will help you maintain this consistency. These policies should outline how you verify and retain documentation for your employees, the system that you use to audit your I-9 forms, and the procedure that you follow when alerted to a possible immigration issue.
- Keep close track of your records. Remember that you need to have I-9 records for all current employees. You also need to keep the I-9 forms of former employees for three full years after their date of hire, or one year after they leave your company, whichever date comes later. Seek documentation for actions that don’t have standardized forms. For instance, if ICE calls you to say they are investigating one of your employees but they don’t want you to take action against that employee while the investigation is pending, you should ask them for a letter documenting their request.
- Seek legal counsel. If you are issued a I-9 inspection notice, seek professional help right away and certainly don’t waive the three-day period that ICE gives employers to organize their records. Seeking counsel from a legal firm is recommended over help from from an accounting firm or some other kind of audit consulting firm. A smart ICE field agent can compel an accounting firm to turn over a report of your audit, which can amount to a play-by-play of all the changes you had to make to your records; a legal firm is prohibited from turning over this type of information under attorney-client privilege.
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