By NEIL A. LEWIS
Published: November 19, 2009
New York Times
WASHINGTON — Immigration enforcement officials said Thursday that they were expanding a program for auditing companies that might have hired illegal immigrants and had notified 1,000 companies this week that they would have to undergo such a review.
John Morton, who heads Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, announced the new initiative, saying it was part of the administration’s plan to deal with companies that hire illegal workers. “ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces,” Mr. Morton said.
He said that because the program was a law enforcement operation, he would not identify the companies that would undergo an audit except to say that they had been selected as a result of investigative leads and their connection to public safety and national security.
The language suggests the audits will affect private companies involved in infrastructure operations like gas and electric utilities and contractors on military bases but not retailers and manufacturers of nonessential goods.
The announcement of the action appears to be part of a two-pronged strategy by Homeland Security officials to crack down on companies that regularly rely on illegal workers while simultaneously trying to reward companies that are diligent in checking the documentation of prospective workers.
At a separate event on Thursday, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, urged American consumers to favor companies that make efforts to ensure that they do not hire illegal immigrants.
To that end, Ms. Napolitano said that her department was permitting companies that use a new computerized system to check the legal status of employees to feature a special logo on their products and ads saying “I E-Verify.”
The E-Verify campaign allows employers to match a prospective candidate’s name against a database that combines several government lists, including Social Security, passport and border information.
The first audit conducted by ICE covered 654 companies and resulted in the filing of formal notices to seek a fine from 61. ICE officials said they were considering seeking fines from an additional 267 companies from that first audit.
An audit consists of ICE officials checking each worker’s Employee Eligibility Verification Form, known as an I-9, to determine what steps were taken to confirm the person was eligible to be hired. If irregularities are found, the companies may then be fined for lax monitoring.
The strategy is part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce illegal immigration by forcing companies to fire unauthorized workers rather than by conducting raids at the workplace, actions that are often accompanied by great personal trauma, including deportation and the dividing of immigrant families.
Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, a leading Republican on immigration policy, on Thursday sharply criticized the administration’s approach. Mr. Smith said it was unwise to end “worksite enforcement” actions, or raids.
“The most effective means we have of making these jobs available to American citizens and legal immigrants is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement worksite enforcement actions,” he said. “Each time ICE detains and deports an illegal immigrant worker, ICE creates a job for an American worker.”
The audits, however, have resulted in large-scale dismissals at the hands of employers, leaving the government one step removed.
In September, American Apparel, a clothing maker with a large garment factory in downtown Los Angeles, fired about 1,800 immigrant employees — more than a quarter of its work force — after a federal audit turned up irregularities in identity documents the workers presented when they were hired.
Read at New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/us/20immig.html