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Worksite Enforcement

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Effective worksite enforcement plays an important role in the fight against illegal immigration.
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Under federal law, employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals they hire, and to document that information using the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9.

ICE’s worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law and on the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law. Worksite enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor, and other crimes collateral to worksite enforcement.

HSI uses a three-prong approach to conduct worksite enforcement: compliance, through I-9 inspections, civil fines and referrals for debarment; enforcement, through the arrest of employers, knowingly employing undocumented workers, and the arrest of unauthorized workers for violation of laws associated with working without authorization; and outreach, through the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE program, to instill a culture of compliance and accountability.

A notice of inspection alerts business owners that ICE is going to audit their hiring records to determine whether or not they are in compliance with the law. Employers are required to produce their company’s I-9s within three business days, after which ICE will conduct an an inspection for compliance. If employers are not in compliance with the law, an I-9 inspection of their business will likely result in civil fines and could lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution, if they are knowingly violating the law.

An effective worksite enforcement strategy must address both employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, as well as the workers themselves. In worksite cases, ICE investigators adhere to high investigative standards, including the following:

  • ICE will look for evidence of the mistreatment of workers, along with evidence of trafficking, smuggling, harboring, visa fraud, identification document fraud, money laundering and other such criminal conduct.
  • ICE will obtain indictments, criminal arrests or search warrants, or a commitment from a U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute the targeted employer before arresting employees for civil immigration violations at a worksite.

Working with Employers

ICE initiated the IMAGE program in 2006. As part of the program, ICE provides employers with education and training on proper hiring procedures, including use of employment screening tools such as E-Verify. The IMAGE program complements ICE’s worksite enforcement strategy, which focuses on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices. 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. (Read more about the ICE IMAGE program.)

Targeting Abusive or Exploitative Employers

Worksite enforcement investigations often involve egregious violations of criminal statutes by employers and widespread abuses. Such cases often involve additional violations such as alien smuggling, alien harboring, document fraud, money laundering, fraud or worker exploitation. ICE also investigates employers who employ force, threats or coercion (for example, threatening to have employees deported) in order to keep the unauthorized alien workers from reporting substandard wage or working conditions.

By uncovering such violations, ICE can send a strong deterrent message to other employers who knowingly employ illegal aliens.

Critical Infrastructure Protection

As the investigative arm for the Department of Homeland Security, ICE focuses its criminal investigations on the most egregious violators and concentrates its worksite inspection efforts on employers conducting business in critical infrastructure and national security interest industries/sectors (e.g. chemical, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, emergency services, government facilities, information technology, nuclear reactors materials and waste and transportation systems).

ICE’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.

In pursuing this strategy, ICE applies risk assessment principles to critical infrastructure and worksite enforcement cases in order to maximize the impact of investigations against the most significant threats and violators.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 08/06/2019