September 18

I-9s and ICE Inspections: How to Protect Your Business


ICE inspections are focusing on paperwork violations as part of a continued crackdown on immigration. Here are some things to consider when filling out and storing I-9s and employee documentation.

The Trump Administration is continuing to crack down on immigrant workers as part of its larger immigration policy. Along with industries like health care, retail and construction, the restaurant industry is under increased scrutiny by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. Businesses in Sanctuary Cities are particularly targeted, as federal officials are pushing back on local ordinances that run counter to the current administration policies.

The numbers tell the story. In 2017 ICE opened 1,718 workplace investigations. From Oct 1, 2017 to May 2018, the number was 3,510. There was also a large jump in I-9 audits, going from 1,350 to 2,282. ICE agents are focusing on worker eligibility, but are also increasingly strict on paperwork violations. Incomplete I-9s, incorrect information and inconsistent handling of employee documents can receive steep fines ranging from $224 to $2,236 per violation.

When preparing for a visit from ICE, you also need to think about your employee documents. Ideally, restaurants should work with an attorney to do an internal audit of your I-9 paperwork to make sure they’re fully compliant. Here are a few things to watch out for:

Are all your I-9 forms complete and correct?
Since ICE is inspecting documentation as part of its enforcement efforts, incomplete and incorrect forms can lead to further scrutiny, and possibly fines – even if your staff is legally allowed to work in the US. Make sure all forms are filled out completely and that the required employee identity documents are correct.

Have you purged old forms from former employees?
ICE agents can (and will) levy fines for improper I-9s even if the employee no longer works for the business. To limit liability, businesses should regularly purge old I-9s as soon as they are legally able to. Businesses are required to retain I-9s for 1 year after an employee leaves, or for 3 years after the date of hire, whichever is later.

Do you have a consistent policy for storing I-9s?
Some restaurants will have multiple hiring managers, leading to inconsistent document policies. For example, someone hiring for the Back of the House may store documents differently from the Front of House hiring manager. If an ICE inspection uncovers an inconsistency, it can lead to further inspections and even fines. Restaurants should make sure that all managers are storing I-9s in the same way.

Has your hiring and onboarding process been reviewed by an attorney?
While lawyers can be expensive, there is no better way to ensure your business can withstand ICE inspections. Your entire hiring and onboarding process should be reviewed by an attorney and be internally audited to catch any overlooked issues.

Labor is one of the most important elements of running a restaurant. Good hiring and documentation policies can go a long way to protecting the business, as well as employees, from ICE agents as they enforce the current administration’s immigration policies.

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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