With three months still left in 2010, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the United States government set a record for overall removals of illegal aliens. Since January of 2009, more than 3,200 employers suspected of hiring illegal aliens have been audited for I-9 compliance. This has resulted in $50 million in fines for employers.

Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed in 1986, employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all workers and document the information on Form I-9. ICE is the agency in charge of auditing I-9 compliance and can issue fines up to $16,000 per violation. In addition to insuring I-9 compliance regulations, ICE has a comprehensive work site enforcement strategy and targets employers that knowingly hire illegal aliens.

Non-compliance of I-9 regulations can be costly for employers, even if they do not knowingly hire illegal aliens. A few examples of employer fines from recent years include:

– A November 2008 ICE I-9 compliance audit at Michigan Abercrombie & Fitch stores has led the company to revise its immigration compliance program as well as pay $1,047,110 in fines as part of a settlement. Even though there were no instances where Abercrombie & Fitch knowingly hired unauthorized aliens, there were numerous technology-related deficiencies in the electronic I-9 verification system that the company utilized.

– Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation reached an agreement with ICE and agreed to pay $4.5 million in fines as well as adopt more stringent immigration compliance practices at the end of 2009. An investigation of the company led to the arrest of 338 illegal aliens. 38 of those arrested were convicted of misuse of a Social Security Account number.

– A July 2009 investigation of Brownwood Furniture in California showed that 61 of the 73 people employed for the company had submitted invalid documents to gain employment. In addition to paying $10,000 in fines, the president of the company is facing up to 66 months in prison. The vice president of the company has agreed to pay $5,000 in fines and could also be sentenced to 6 months of prison time.

Businesses of all sizes need to ensure they follow the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 to avoid being fined by ICE for I-9 compliance problems. Small businesses may lack the equipment, time, and/or staff to manage I-9 compliance issues. Even large businesses, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, are not immune to I-9 compliance problems. Businesses can avoid I-9 compliance issues by using a certified E-verify company to handle their I-9 processing for them. A certified E-verify company can assist businesses of all sizes manage their I-9 forms.