For many companies around the country, building a successful business starts with hiring a capable workforce.
It can be a tedious process. One that begins with the recruitment of qualified candidates and continues with the subsequent steps of taking those potential employees through the hiring process, all while ensuring that all documentation is in compliance with the law.
As part of the hiring process, companies must conduct regular self-assessments to uncover flaws that could be exploited by unauthorized workers who create vulnerabilities in today’s marketplace by presenting false documents to gain employment, completing applications for fraudulent benefits and stealing identities of legal United States workers. There are real victims associated with identity theft; it can significantly impact an individual’s credit history, medical history and other aspects of everyday life.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducts outreach through the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE program, to instill a culture of compliance and accountability.
HSI is responsible for upholding the laws established by Congress to include the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire. These laws help protect jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.
ICE initiated the IMAGE program in 2006. It is a voluntary program in which ICE partners with businesses to reduce unauthorized employment and the use of fraudulent identity documents. By volunteering to participate in the program, companies can reduce unauthorized employment and the use of fraudulent identity documents. As part of IMAGE, ICE and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provide education and training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection and use of the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
HSI often highlights the IMAGE program during Notice of Inspection (NOI) surges. Special agents will go out and serve a business a NOI and educate them about the IMAGE program at the same time.
It’s part of the agency’s worksite enforcement strategy that focuses on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. HSI’s worksite enforcement program is a key element in deterring illegal immigration to the United States, since the vast majority of illegal aliens will attempt to gain employment after they arrive and embed in the U.S. By eliminating the ability of an illegal alien to obtain employment in the U.S. we will reduce the pull factor of illegal employment and reduce the flow of illegal aliens to our borders.
HSI uses a three-prong approach to conduct worksite enforcement:
- Compliance through Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) inspections and civil fines;
- Enforcement through the criminal arrest of employers and administrative arrest of unauthorized workers;
- Outreach through education and the IMAGE program.
“HSI’s Worksite Enforcement strategy focuses on protecting our nation’s critical infrastructures, reducing the demand for illegal employment, and protecting employment opportunities for the country’s lawful workforce through criminal enforcement, compliance, and outreach,” said HSI Executive Director Derek Benner.
Joining the IMAGE program also encourages businesses to act as leaders in their industry. Companies can say ‘look at us, we went through IMAGE and it’s helped our business out.’
Every field office has an IMAGE coordinator. Employers that join the program get a dedicated HSI representative who will vet hiring practices, assist with planning, make sure the current work force is legitimate and ensure businesses always have a point of contact to stay in touch with.
Representatives go over the process step by step, explaining how it’s going to go, how long it takes and the overall program and the benefits of it. We let them know what’s required of them that they have to join E-verify within one year and they have to submit to an audit as part of the IMAGE membership process. The goal is to get them in compliance and keep them there.
Is Joining the IMAGE Program the Right Decision?
ICE is creating a culture of compliance by building cooperative relationships with employers that strengthen hiring practices and encourage employer compliance to ensure a lawful workforce. As employers join IMAGE, ICE will more efficiently focus its attention on unscrupulous employers and egregious violators of our nation’s immigration laws.
Companies who have joined IMAGE have made a commitment to protecting our nation’s lawful workforce. This is not just about smart business. It’s about doing what is right.
The expectation is not for businesses to be fraudulent identity document experts. The program representatives will come in, help educate employers and tailor the program to meet their specific needs.
“What [employers] get from joining the program is the ability the ensure they have a compliant workforce and that they have good business practices that may help protect them from liability,” IMAGE Program Unit Chief Carmin DeRose said. “The IMAGE Program works best when we become partners with companies that really want to be involved in it.”
The next month, Spindle Cooling, an Arizona-based warehouse company became the 41st business in the state to sign up for IMAGE.
For many businesses; however, the biggest reservation in joining IMAGE is the fear of what will be found when their workforce is examined. If businesses have an unstable workforce, or their I-9s are wrong, they might be facing some culpability.
To offset that concern, the program hosts IMAGE forums in select cities around the country. Most recently, more than 100 businesses attended an IMAGE forum in Memphis, Tennessee. In Detroit, more than 60 companies came out to learn about the agency’s program. Conducted alongside USCIS and the Department of Justice, the objectives of the forums are not only to educate ICE’s partners relative to IMAGE, but to be the first step of employers becoming official partners in the program.
“These forums are a form of outreach. It’s us living up to our strategy where worksite enforcement isn’t about just arresting people, it’s about compliance and outreach,” said DeRose.
During outreach, HSI personnel talk with company’s human resources manager, conducting research on what questions are they asking to potential employees and what types of documents do they ask for. Do they have checks and balances in place? Does someone go behind the human resources person and check their I-9s to make sure they’re being filled out properly and they’re verifying documents?
When conducting I-9 audits, HSI will take the I-9s back to the auditors for review. Auditors will look at the forms, do record checks on all the employees and identify anyone who may be using suspect documents. They’ll run them through various DHS databases for review.
Once that’s done, they’ll go back and see if there are any errors. Businesses will have 10 days to correct the mistakes.
IMAGE Program Success Now and in the Future
Participation in the IMAGE program is not limited to a certain part of the country, nor company size. In 2011, seven major employers in the U.S. including Best Western International, Chick-fil-A, Inc., Hyatt, Kelly Services, Lexmark, Smoothie King and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America agreed to partner with ICE by joining IMAGE.
The success of the partnership hinges on establishing continued contact. It’s not just becoming an IMAGE member and walking away. The goal is to foster an ongoing relationship with the IMAGE coordinator where you can call them up when you have a question.
As the IMAGE program grows, it will continue to highlight the benefits to employers. In doing so, the program will evolve and refine itself based on the feedback leadership receives. The hope is that there will be a huge increase in the amount of companies that will become partners.
“If you don’t grow and adapt to the changing needs of the customer, you won’t maximize success,” DeRose said.
ICE is committed to establishing a meaningful, sustained Form I-9 inspection program to promote compliance with the law, part of a comprehensive strategy to address and deter illegal employment. Inspections are one of the most powerful tools the federal government must ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws.
In fiscal year 2018, ICE conducted 5,981 I-9 audits and made 779 criminal arrests and 1,525 administrative arrests.
Upon enrollment in and commitment to the IMAGE Best Employment Practices, program participants are deemed “IMAGE certified,” a distinction DHS and ICE believe will become an industry standard.
The success of the IMAGE program will ultimately be achieved when companies understand the benefits of the program and the become its best advocates in the field.
“I can sell it all day and bring a PowerPoint and all the people in the government, but there’s no better salesperson than someone who’s been with the program for a year, seen the benefits, fixed their workforce and putting them on a path to success,” DeRose said. “The highest compliment to us are referrals. Where we see just as many new members that are referrals from old members.”