The U.S. government has launched a fresh crackdown on employers suspected of hiring illegal immigrants by notifying about 1,000 businesses across the country in recent weeks they must submit documents for audits.
The so-called "silent raids" are the largest since July 2009 when just as many companies were notified, according to immigration attorneys, and weren't publicly disclosed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that conducts such inspections.
When asked about the audits, ICE responded that the agency inspects company hiring records "when necessary…to ensure compliance with U.S. employment laws." An ICE official added, "the names and locations of the businesses will not be released at this time due to the ongoing, law enforcement sensitive nature of the inspections."
The new employment audits hit restaurants, food processing, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture and other industries that together employ tens of thousands of workers, according to attorneys representing some of the companies.
The audits happened just before the close of the government's fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Last year, the Obama administration audited 3,004 companies, according to DHS.
"It's crazy. I think we are going to exceed last year's tally," said Kevin Lashus, an attorney at the Austin office of Jackson Lewis LLP, who is handling 30 cases in a range of industries in Texas, Florida and other states.
The audits suggest the Obama administration is choosing not to ignore companies that hire blue-collar, foreign labor even as it presses for an immigration overhaul, which is languishing in Congress, to put many undocumented immigrants on the path to legal status.
"The latest audit push demonstrates that the government is not suspending its enforcement efforts, even during the debate on immigration," says Julie Myers Wood, former ICE chief during the Bush administration and now a compliance consultant.
Mr. Lashus, who worked as an ICE counsel before entering private practice, said the Obama administration is using stepped up enforcement to "drive employers to get off the sidelines and contact government representatives" to press for a revamp of the immigration system.
While the audits don't lead to the deportation of a firm's illegal workers, they lose their jobs if discovered. Critics of the crackdown say it drives more immigrants to exploitative, off-the-books work. For employers, the audits can lead to deep losses in productivity, in addition to civil and criminal fines, and many workers end up getting hired by competitors.
Typically, ICE sends a notice of an audit to a business demanding documents, including I-9 employee eligibility forms, worker rosters and payroll sheets. After examining the documents, ICE issues a "notice of suspect documents" to the company, listing workers with mismatched names and Social Security numbers or fake IDs. At that point, the employer must inform the workers that authorities have challenged their right to work and that they must quit unless they show legitimate papers. After an employer takes action, ICE issues fines for both clerical mistakes on forms and the hiring of illegal workers.
Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324755104579071331936331534.html
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