MISSION — With I-9 audits expected to ramp up, the Department of Homeland Security is educating business owners about the requirement fill out the form to ensure their employees are eligible to work.
At the request of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, Homeland Security Investigations and the Small Business Administration held workshops this month for business owners at the Mission Chamber Commerce to teach them about the required I-9 forms in preparation for the expected increase in audits.
“Under the Trump administration, they are now increasing this by a large amount,” Cuellar said. “So in order to get ahead of this, I thought it would be good to emphasize the compliance part.”
The compliance part, Cuellar said, entails filling out the required paperwork while the enforcement side of it is when agents of HSI, a component of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, conduct audits at businesses of which ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, promised a 400-percent increase in December 2017.
However, Victor Hugas, supervisory special agent with HSI, stressed that the agency’s practices have remained the same even though they have expanded their focus from just auditing critical infrastructure, such as transportation, dams and airports.
“We’ve served most of those businesses and historically we stayed away from a lot of your general businesses, be it hotels, restaurants and other things,” Hugas said.
“Now, however, the fact that we’re doing a lot more of these I-9 audits — because we’ve been tasked with doing 400 percent more of what we did the previous year — now we’re starting to include restaurants, other transportation businesses, hotels and different things like that,” he said. “But as far as the process and what’s been going on, it’s all the same … no law has changed.”
Hugas noted that while the 400 percent increase may appear like a large uptick, the actual number of audits they’re doing now is less than what the agency did under then-President George W. Bush when ICE rounded up workers at meatpacking plants.
“They were doing much more years ago than we’re doing now,” he said. “It comes in waves just like anything else.”
The I-9 form, established in 1986, ensures the eligibility of employees to work by with supporting documents, such as a driver’s license, a social security number, a passport, state ID or a permanent resident card.
During the workshops on Tuesday, HSI representatives also informed employers of the IMAGE program — ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employees program — through which businesses agree to enroll in the E-Verify program, establish a hiring and employment policy, and submit an I-9 form inspection, among other requirements.
By doing so, the business owners would receive training and guidance on hiring procedures and would not be subject for an I-9 inspection for two years, the representatives said.
More information on I-9 requirements is available on their website at uscis.gov/i-9central.