By Deepak Ahluwalia · June 19, 2018

From huge metros to small towns and all points in between, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has drastically stepped up I-9 audits of companies. The federal government requires all employers to use the I-9 form to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States.

Last year, the agency audited more than 1,300 organizations, which produced 71 indictments. ICE’s acting director has pledged to boost workplace raids by 400-500 percent.

And the penalties for not following the rules for handling I-9 forms can be severe – well into the tens of thousands of dollars even for small enterprises, much more for large companies.

If the dreaded ICE notice of inspection (NOI) lands in your mailbox, here are some essential guidelines for dealing with the coming ICE inspection:

Do not waive the three-day notice. When presented with a notice of inspection, you have three days to gather your I-9 forms and surrender them to ICE. Even if you believe that your I-9s are in proper order, take those three days to consult with an attorney and double-check your compliance with appropriate regulations.

Provide only the documents requested. Carefully review the notice of inspection and accompanying subpoenas. The NOI will ask for the I-9, while the accompanying subpoenas might request additional documents. Read through both carefully to ensure you are providing everything that is requested. Do not turn over any unnecessary documents for the audit.

Keep track of everything you give to ICE. I-9 audits do not occur at your place of business and only originals are accepted by ICE. Make copies of all I-9 forms to retain for your business’s use while the audit is in progress.

Contact the ICE auditor. When the NOI is served, you will also receive contact information for the ICE auditor. Through your attorney, reach out to the auditor to determine the best course of communication. Each auditor handles cases differently, so make contact to find out about the timeline, process of the audit, and any expectations the auditor may have for your business.

Use your three days wisely. The auditors provide these three days so that you can get your documents in proper order. We urge you to consider taking the following three steps:

First, contact your business immigration attorney.
Second, move forward with gathering the requested forms and making copies of each.
Third, if time allows have your attorney make the necessary corrections to your I-9 forms before the audit.

Getting through the I-9 audit requires diligence and extreme attention to detail. ICE means business and will pursue penalties against businesses that don’t handle the I-9 process properly. The best way to avoid trouble, of course, is to follow the rules from the start. More information is available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Deepak Ahluwalia is the lead attorney and manager of the employment-focused immigration division of Patel Gaines, LLC . He consults with corporations and clients on all matters related to corporate and employment immigration with a focus on I-9 compliance and audits. This content is provided for informational purposes only and is in no way intended to constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship.