Worksite Enforcement investigations surge in FY18
Criminal investigations, business audits and arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents and auditors surged in fiscal year 2018 compared to the previous year, following a commitment made by the agency in late 2017 to step up its worksite enforcement efforts across the country.
In fiscal year 2018, HSI 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.
Criminal indictments and convictions remained at a steady level compared to previous years, but those numbers are also expected to rise due to many ongoing investigations, which can take months to years to fully develop, according to HSI. In fiscal year 2018, HSI saw 72 managers indicted compared to 71 in FY17, and 49 managers convicted in FY18 versus 55 in FY17.
Several high-profile enforcement actions also took place in 2018, including:
- In April, HSI executed a federal search warrant at a slaughterhouse in Bean Station, Tennessee, and arrested 104 aliens on immigration violations. In September, the owner of the company pleaded guilty in federal court to tax fraud, wire fraud and employing illegal aliens. He faces various prison time and fines when he is sentenced early next year, and he has also agreed to pay $1.4 million in restitution before his sentencing.
- In August, HSI executed a series of criminal arrest warrants for 17 individuals connected to an alleged criminal conspiracy to exploit illegal alien laborers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, and served search warrants for worksite violations at agricultural firms in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada. The ongoing criminal investigation is being coordinated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska.
What is Worksite Enforcement?
HSI’s worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law, and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire, and to document that information using the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. ICE uses the 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 uses to ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws.
HSI’s worksite enforcement strategy includes leveraging the agency’s other investigative disciplines, since worksite investigations can often involve additional criminal activity, such as alien smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, document fraud, worker exploitation and/or substandard wage and working conditions.
HSI uses a three-prong approach to worksite enforcement: Compliance, through I-9 inspections, civil fines and referrals for debarment; enforcement, through the criminal arrest of employers and administrative arrest of unauthorized workers; and outreach, through the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE program, to instill a culture of compliance and accountability.
The ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) is a voluntary program in which ICE partners with businesses to reduce unauthorized employment and the use of fraudulent identity documents. ICE announced the program in July 2006. It assists employers to develop a more secure and stable workforce. It also enhances fraudulent document awareness through education and training.
IMAGE offers a formal membership certification program that focuses on employers that can effect change within their industry or region. These employers also serve as an example and role model in the business community while highlighting the importance and viability of immigration compliance.
Eighteen employers across the country joined IMAGE in 2018 including various businesses in New York, Florida, Michigan and Arizona. By voluntarily participating in the IMAGE 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) will provide education and training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection and use of the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. Members will also learn about the importance of avoiding discrimination in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision § 274B.8 U.S.C. § 1324b. Employers seeking certification in IMAGE must agree to submit to a Form I-9 Inspection, ICE may agree to waive or sustainably reduce any potential fine.
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. 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, let them know what’s required of them that they must 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.
Worksite in the Field
On June 19, 2018, HSI special agents executed a criminal search warrant at Fresh Mark in Salem, Ohio, in addition to federal document search warrants at three other Fresh Mark locations in Northern Ohio. During the search warrant execution, authorities identified 146 Fresh Mark employees working at the Salem meat processor who were subject to arrest for immigration violations.
In August, HSI executed criminal search warrants at trailer manufacturer in Sumner, Texas, and arrested 160 people on immigration violations, many who were using stolen identities of U.S. citizens. The ongoing criminal investigation is being coordinated with U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas.