For the past decade, immigration raids at work sites in the United States have been uncommon. That changed in early April when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 280 employees at a business in Texas. While it is not yet clear if company officials will face criminal charges, the message is clear: Hiring undocumented workers is a mistake.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prevents U.S. employers from knowingly employing unauthorized workers. As an employer, you have an affirmative obligation to verify both the identity and work eligibility of everyone you hire. To do this, you complete and retain the I-9 form. You can likely gauge your company’s potential liability by examining the penalties for violating the IRCA.
Fines for paperwork violations
To comply with federal law, you must ask new hires to complete section 1 of the I-9 by the end of the first day of employment. Workers then have three days to provide documentation to prove their identity and work eligibility. Fines for substantive errors on your company’s I-9 forms range from $110 to $1,100 per noncompliant I-9.
Fines for knowingly employing unauthorized workers
If an ICE officer determines your company has knowingly employed unauthorized workers, you face stiffer penalties. A first offense may carry a fine of $375 per unauthorized worker. You could, however, pay as much as $16,000 per employee, if officers determine your organization has a pattern and practice of employing unauthorized workers. Even worse, you could face jail time.
Fines for unfair employment practices
U.S. employers must walk a fine line when it comes to employment eligibility verification. While you cannot legally employ unauthorized workers, you also cannot unfairly discriminate against either employees or applicants. If the Department of Justice determines you have used an individual’s citizenship status or national origin in making employment decisions, you may face a fine of between $461 and $3,695 per employee for a first-time violation. Subsequent violations could cost you nearly $20,000 per worker.
As you can see, employing unauthorized workers is a recipe for disaster. While it is too early to determine if the worksite raid in Texas is an anomaly or a change in enforcement policy, it is never too early to commit to following federal law.