September 12

How Your Restaurant Can Prepare for a Visit from ICE

A recent incident in Baltimore illustrates many owners’ and workers’ fears around federal immigration policy. After a visit from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, The BoatHouse Canton saw 30 of its team members leave work out of fear of a crackdown on immigration. According to a letter released by the owners of The BoatHouse on Facebook, those workers left because the “properly documented and potentially less than properly documented are all fearful of being separated from their families, many with small children.”

A sad reality of the current environment is uncertainty and fear. Hopefully, some of that tension can be relieved by learning your rights before you potentially face an ICE investigation.

Disclaimer: None of the following is legal advice. For legal advice on U.S. immigration and employment law, contact an Immigration or Labor and Employment attorney in your area for detailed information.

There are two types of visits from ICE:  an ICE agent delivering a Notice of Inspection (a piece of paper with a list of documents the business needs to submit to ICE within 72 hours/3 days); and an ICE officer with a judicial warrant compelling documents and/or inspection of the premises (possibly as part of a criminal investigation). Both types of visit can be intimidating, so being prepared is paramount for you and your staff.

How can your restaurant prepare for a visit from ICE?

  • Contact an attorney to ensure compliance with immigration, labor and employment, and anti-discrimination laws
  • Have a plan
  • Provide the American Immigration Lawyers Association “Know Your Rights” handouts to all employees. Link Here (note: this link leads to a page with multiple language options.)


Meet with all staff members.
Let your staff know who will respond in the event of an ICE inspection. Give your staff members an opportunity to voice concerns so you can work to address them before there is an issue. There is a lot of fear and misinformation in the air. If possible, have an immigration attorney present to give legal advice to staff members about their rights.

Have a plan.
Decide which staff members will deal directly with ICE agents, who they should call when ICE arrives, and how to access legally requested employment documentation. Make sure staff members know their rights during an ICE visit.

Ask for a warrant.
If ICE officers appear without notice, they may be conducting a criminal investigation. In this instance, ICE can gain access to your business for inspection in two ways:  your permission or a warrant. Review the Know Your Rights pamphlet to understand your rights with an ICE officer.

Be prepared to interact with ICE agents.
Be polite and professional.  Keep in mind that your answers may have legal implications.  If answering questions, stick to the topic of the question.  To understand your rights with respect to answering questions, review the Know Your Rights pamphlet.

Call someone.
Managers on Duty should call the business owner and immigration attorney, as soon as possible (even during the investigation). The business owner and attorney should be prepared to handle any additional needs the ICE agents may have. However, the agents are not required to wait for an attorney or business owner to arrive to proceed with the investigation.

Hold a meeting after the inspection.
It’s very important for your staff to know what has occurred. Take the time for an all-staff meeting to go over the inspection, to answer any questions your staff may have and to address any concerns. If possible, have an immigration attorney present for the meeting to give legal advice.

With immigration and labor and employment policies constantly changing under the current administration, one of the best steps you can take is to prepare yourself and your staff for a possible investigation. By working with an immigration attorney to establish internal guidelines for your staff and hiring processes, and to understand your and your employee’s rights, you may be able to save yourself issues down the road.

About the author

Jack Hott

Some say Jack Hott was born in a restaurant. Others say he wasn’t born at all but discovered behind a Hobart stand mixer. Wherever he comes from, he’s made a career out of only being a good enough employee to skate by in the restaurant industry since the mid-90s. Jack Hott, if that’s even his real name, has gotten lost in walk-ins, stared into the abyss of pizza ovens, spilled red wine on white linen tablecloths, and shaken cocktails he was supposed to stir. If you can find him on social media, for your own safety, please do not follow him.


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