What Healthcare Employers Should Know About ICE Investigations

What Healthcare Employers Should Know About ICE Investigations
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In 2009, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced it was going to focus more on auditing companies to crack down on illegal hiring practices. Since then, ICE has more than doubled the number of audits it performs each year. These audits look at the I-9 forms companies are supposed to keep on file to determine employees’ eligibility to work in the U.S. When they find violations, penalties can include fines and even criminal prosecution.

These consequences can cost healthcare organizations a lot, so it’s vital they ensure their I-9 records are accurate and up-to-date. Here’s what you need to know about ICE investigations.

Most ICE Investigations Stem from Errors and Tips

Simple human error can cause problems for employers down the line. Mistakes employees often make in filling out the I-9 form include failing to enter their name, other names they’ve used, their address or their date of birth, says Immigration Attorney Eugene Hollander. In addition, employees may fail to sign the forms, and employers may fail to list the proper documentation on the forms.

Investigations and audits are triggered when ICE gets a report of an irregularity. The agency sends the employer in question a Notice of Inspection to alert it to the investigation. By law, employers are provided with at least three business days to produce the Forms I-9. I-9s for former employees must be retained for three years after the date of hire or one year after the employee leaves, whichever is longer. These inspections look for any compliance violations and determine whether criminal prosecution is warranted, Hollander says.

There are several triggers for an ICE investigation, says Elizabeth Ricci, of Rambana & Ricci PLLC. “In my experience, the main causes of an ICE investigation are from former disgruntled employees or current competitors who contact ICE.” Tips from other law enforcement agencies may also trigger an investigation.

What Can HR Do?

HR departments should conduct periodic internal audits and adopt best practices and standard operating procedures to show good faith compliance practices, says Aleksandra Michailov, of Capitol Immigration Law Group PLLC. Companies that hire immigrants should also have an effective immigration compliance plan, which includes a written I-9 policy, a compliance program audit and anti-discrimination auditing, she says.

Diligence is key, Ricci says. HR employees should only accept eligibility documents that appear legitimate and are listed in the A, B and C columns on the I-9. If something has been whited out or there appears to be a large age discrepancy, they should request another document.

Electronic Systems Help Compliance

An electronic I-9 compliance tool that completes and stores these forms can help minimize errors, experts say. The advantages of using an electronic I-9 platform include improving the accuracy of completion of the Form I-9 and providing an audit trail to ICE, Hollander says. In addition, an automated platform such as PreCheck’s I-9Ensure software can be updated periodically to keep up with changing legislation.

Electronic systems can also provide reminders when documents used for employment eligibility expire and need to be reverified. These help take the guesswork out of some of the lesser-used identity and employment verification documents, Ricci says.

While an electronic system is very helpful, “employers should also remember that electronic I-9s are acceptable only if they continue to follow ICE best practices, including annual I-9 administrator training, review of I-9s by a second I-9 administrator and annual I-9 audits,” Michailov says.

In addition, these I-9 compliance tools should not be confused with E-Verify, a voluntary (for most employers) government program that compares I-9 information with records that are available to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, such as U.S. passport and visa information and immigration or naturalization records. I-9 compliance tools help keep accurate records; E-Verify compares information to national databases to help employers verify immigration or naturalization status. Many I-9 compliance tools, including PreCheck’s I-9Ensure tool, integrate with the E-Verify system, as well.

Are you currently evaluating electronic I-9 compliance software? Contact us to learn how PreCheck can help you transition to a paperless I-9 process.