Immigrant-rights organizers have for months been preparing employers in Southern California for the day that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter their workplace to verify employment eligibility.
Those inspections aren’t uncommon — ICE conducted 1,360 in the last fiscal year — but there has been a spate of them in Southern California since last week.
Immigration agents have been visiting businesses to make sure employers follow the rules for the Form I-9, a document that confirms a worker’s identity and authorization to work in the U.S. These I-9 inspections are not the same as workplace raids, which take place without warning.
This week, legal observers and immigrant-rights advocates will be deployed to a number of work sites to make sure protocols are being followed.
Related: SoCal immigrant rights activists fight back against last week’s ICE immigration actions
A California law that took effect Jan. 1 — known as the Immigrant Worker Protection Act — requires employers to request a warrant from immigration agents before letting them enter workplace areas not open to the public, and to notify their employees when they receive notice of the inspection.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is an I-9 audit?
Under federal law, “employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals they hire, and to document that information using the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9,” Lori Haley, an ICE spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
If business owners receive a notice of inspection, it means ICE is going to audit their hiring records to determine whether they are in compliance with the law, Haley said.
Haley said the agency does not announce in advance or verify afterward when and where I-9 inspections are conducted.
What is the role of the employer?
“Employers must keep copies of the I-9 forms and supporting documents for inspection,” the Immigrant Legal Resource wrote in a 2017 worksheet.
At any time, ICE may issue a “notice of inspection” to employers requesting that they make their forms available. Employers are then required to produce the forms within three business days.
Under the new state law, employers also must notify their workers within 72 hours of receiving notice of an inspection.
What happens if a business is non-compliant?
Employers can receive civil fines and may face criminal prosecution if they knowingly violate the law, Haley said.
How is this different from a workplace raid?
Jennaya Dunlap, with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said I-9 audits are meant to target employers.
Workplace raids have typically targeted unauthorized employees, involving agents showing up unannounced and asking for their legal paperwork, she said.
During a raid, ICE agents are armed, will often seal off exits, and search and seize documents, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said.
What should employers and employees do ahead of time?
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center encourages employers to prepare for the possibility of an audit.
There should be internal policies that educate workers on their right to remain silent and their right to speak to an attorney, according to the center’s worksheet.
“Similar to other emergency situations, employers should have a plan in place with a clear chain of command and clear instructions on how to proceed,” the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said in the worksheet.
Also, employees should not “panic and try to run,” said Florence Lin, with the Asian Youth Center in San Gabriel, which has trained the Rosemead Chamber of Commerce in preparation for workplace enforcement.
Staff writer Christopher Yee contributed to this report.
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