The nation’s restaurant industry, which reportedly employs illegal immigrants for at least 20 percent of its back-of-the-house workforce, is suddenly coming under the purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) crackdowns, according to the New York Times.

ICE is now holding employers’ feet to the ground if it audits a workplace and finds illegal immigrants employed there. Previously, ICE would round up the suspected illegals and begin legal and deportation proceedings against them, but now (often in addition to that) ICE is enforcing administrative and legal sanctions against the employers themselves for the act of hiring illegals in the first place, wittingly or unwittingly.

The restaurant and food industries are especially prone to hiring illegals, but previously they were left alone pretty much during ICE raids or were able to broker deals to hand over some illegals while retaining the others to keep their businesses afloat.

The whole situation was and is kind of like an open secret.

“We always, always hire the undocumented workers,” one anonymous restaurateur told the NYT. “It’s not just me, it’s everybody in the industry. First, they are willing to do the work. Second, they are willing to learn. Third, they are not paid as well. It’s an economic decision. It’s less expensive to hire an undocumented person.”

Employers are by law required to check documents to verify their new hires’ eligibility to work in the United States, but fake documents are often submitted and employers either don’t recognize their inauthenticity or even challenge them if they suspect fraud. Reason? See comment above.

Employers are free to use—and often are required to do so if they are a federal contractor, for instance—the online E-Verify system for checking documents against federal databases, but most do not.

Employers, don’t expose yourselves to any legal liability in your hiring practices. Visit Personnel Concepts’ I-9 Compliance section for a variety of useful administrative tools and posters.