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In contrast to the Bush administration's penchant for attention-grabbing raids resulting in worker arrests, the Obama administration has chosen to ramp up its immigration enforcement program with an eye towards I-9 audits that target small and big employers alike.
Though I-9 audits can often be stressful and time consuming, for employers who follow the law and take reasonable steps to verify employment eligibility, they don't have to be costly.
As you may know, federal law requires you to complete I-9 forms within three days of hiring an employee. You can then either use the E-Verify system, or accept reasonably genuine documentation confirming an employee's right to work in the U.S.
Though I-9 forms are not filed with the government, you must keep them for three years after an employee's hire date, and make them available to immigration officials upon request.
During an I-9 audit, immigration officials will use the forms to determine whether you employ any undocumented workers. If so, you will be required to terminate their employment.
However, along with the nearly 50% increase in audits over the last two years, there has been a 45% increase in criminal arrests of employers, and an average fine of $21,851.
You don't have to suffer the same fate.
It is illegal to knowingly hire and employ undocumented workers. If you suspect a person is providing false documentation, do not hire him, or fire him. Only accept documents that look real. If the Social Security Administration sends you a "No-Match" letter, investigate and take proper action.
Constructive knowledge is just as damning as actual knowledge, so if you act reasonably and with vigilance, you should be able to avoid the harsher results of an I-9 audit.