WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is launching a new round of worksite investigations, maintaining the pressure on businesses to make sure they are hiring only people who can legally work in the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday it has notified 1,000 companies of upcoming audits of their I-9s, forms that new employees complete, and of the identification documents those employees provided to show they are eligible to work in the U.S.
"The inspections will touch on employers of all sizes and in every state in the nation - no one industry is being targeted nor is any one industry immune from scrutiny," ICE said in a statement. The agency declined to name the businesses to be inspected.
The latest round of audits will differ slightly from previous ones. Agents previously were told to audit a certain number each of small, medium and large businesses, said Dawn Lurie, who advises businesses on immigration compliance.But this time agents are being encouraged to investigate larger companies if that's where tips and leads are pointing them. A new Employment Compliance Inspection Center in the Washington suburb of Crystal City, Va., means they'll have more auditors and other resources for those larger investigations.
Audits are usually performed at the state in which a company is headquartered, but agents are being told they can audit other parts of the company if their records review shows there may be problems beyond the headquarters, Lurie said.
Lurie said the new focus for the audits is a sign that ICE is becoming more sophisticated in its worksite enforcement.
The Obama administration's worksite strategy differs from that of the Bush administration, which focused on high-profile raids that led to arrests of hundreds of workers at a single work site.
ICE still conducts raids, but they are smaller and less visible. The current administration also has been criticized for auditing mostly small businesses.
Lurie said she thinks the administration's audit tactic is having an effect.
"I do think businesses should be more frightened. Companies across the U.S. need to take compliance seriously. It's ridiculous to say you are not doing anything . we will wait until the federal government knocks at door," she said.
Companies can take small, inexpensive steps to help themselves, she said.
The administration has investigated records of such companies as Krispy Kreme and Abercrombie and Fitch. An immigration official has said such audits doubled in 2010 over 2008.
But critics say the administration's tactic isn't going far enough. At a recent House subcommittee hearing, Republican lawmakers suggested returning to raids and questioned whether more people not legally working could be detained and deported.
ICE assistant secretary Kumar Kibble told the House critics that the audits could not be assessed in a vacuum and are part of a larger enforcement strategy that helped bring about the record deportation of nearly 393,000 people last year, he said.
Kibble said that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, ICE performed 2,746 worksite investigations, more than double the 1,191 two years earlier. It arrested 196 employers and fined employers nearly $7 million. That compares to fines of $675,209 in 2008.
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