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I-9 audits present legal concerns for businesses

New law may cause more employers to seek counsel.

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Indiana’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business issued a press release June 23, urging Indiana businesses to prepare for I-9 audits. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up its audits of businesses nationwide in an effort to crack down on the employment of unauthorized immigrant workers.

Employers are required to have employees complete I-9 forms, providing documentation that proves the worker’s identity and authorization to work in the United States.

Michael Palmer, a partner in Barnes & Thornburg’s South Bend and Grand Rapids, Mich., offices, said that the I-9 audits – which have become more common during the Obama administration – are a softer approach than previous methods of immigration compliance enforcement.
 

palmer-michael-mug.jpg Palmer

“What employers need to understand is that this process has really taken the place of raids in terms of how ICE is gathering evidence to target employers – not only for I-9 allegations, but also for allegations for knowingly employing unauthorized workers,” Palmer said.

Once ICE notifies a business about a pending audit, Palmer said, “Employers should – and usually do – ask for three days to respond, and usually we hear from them at that time.”

Among the items ICE will ask to review are I-9 forms for current employees and any employee who has been terminated in the past three years, wage reports, and any temporary staffing agreements.

Palmer said that companies that hire through temporary agencies are not required to provide the I-9; that may come from the agency. But because some companies have in the past tried to subvert employment laws by hiring unauthorized immigrant temp workers, Palmer said, businesses must be able to show on paper that they’ve done what they can to verify employment eligibility.

Palmer said he has not received any recent requests from Indiana businesses seeking help with an I-9 audit. But Christl Glier, of-counsel for Ice Miller in Indianapolis, has.

“We’ve been involved in a handful of audits for some Indiana companies – the one most recently of ours is a small startup company,” Glier said. “The things that you see on ICE’s website and in the news and in the media, oftentimes, there are very large companies with a national presence, but smaller companies, that’s a little bit new, for sure,” Glier said.


glier-christl-mug Glier

Both Palmer and Glier said they aren’t certain how ICE chooses businesses for I-9 audits.

“It’s a bit of a mystery,” Palmer said. “They represent that they only target companies that they suspect are violating the law. Now we know from experience that’s not always the case.”

“Some of the things we’ve seen recently make us think that there is some degree of randomness to it all,” Glier said. “It doesn’t seem to be industry-specific. It just makes you wonder if there’s more going on than some of the specific, very blatant things that are triggering these I-9 audits.”

ICE may be more likely to audit businesses that have been subject to immigration raids in the past, Palmer said. And employers who have received “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration may also be targeted for audit. The no-match letter – or employer correction request form – indicates that a Social Security number provided for an employee does not match the SSA’s records.

On July 1, Indiana businesses that are contractors or subcontractors for government agencies will be required to use the Internet-based E-Verify system to confirm employees’ eligibility to work.

“We do hear from quite a few employers about this,” Glier said. “Even ones that are not required to use it just yet, but definitely anticipate that that’s the direction we’re heading. The other issue is just the administrative burden that this places on some companies – it takes training, manpower.”

Palmer said he thinks immigration compliance is a growing concern for employers, especially for large companies with offices in multiple states that may be struggling to understand the laws from state to state.

“We have represented clients who we believe have made a good-faith effort to comply with the I-9 process, but yet they’re subject to I-9 audit,” Palmer said. “The I-9 process – it can be confusing, and employers who do make an effort to comply in good faith are still getting caught in the crosshairs.”

Glier and Palmer recommend that employers conduct their own internal audits to ensure they are in compliance with employment law.

“I think the huge problem for employers is trying to balance everything that’s out there – complying with I-9 requirements, worrying about discrimination issues, and what that balance should look like,” Glier said.

Fines for I-9 violations range from $110 to $1,100 for one single, minor, or technical violation. Incorrect I-9 forms can be used as evidence of knowingly hiring an unauthorized immigrant worker and can result in a fine of up to $3,200 per violation.•

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

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  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

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