Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a new wave of notifications to companies whose I-9 records it intends to audit. The Form I-9 is used to record the eligibility of a company's employees to work in the United States legally.

So far, in fiscal 2011 ICE has conducted 2,496 I-9 audits, up from 503 in 2008. It has also initiated 3,291 work site enforcement cases, arrested 221 employers for violations and issued 385 final orders for more than $10 million in fines. In addition, it has debarred 115 people and 97 companies from doing business with the federal government because of violations during the year, the agency said.

When ICE inspectors conduct an audit, the audited firm can be fined from $110 to $1,000 per individual form for errors or incompleteness, regardless of whether the form is for a legally or illegally employed person. Additional potential civil and criminal exposure could result from knowingly employing unlawful workers and from knowingly aiding and abetting, harboring, or transporting unlawful workers. Individual culpability might be ascribed to the company as a whole. Publicly traded companies face additional exposure under Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank rules, in addition to potential shareholder suits if immigration compliance violations result in a loss of stock value.

Meanwhile, ICE also announced that it has partnered with another seven major employers as part of the agency's IMAGE (ICE Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers) program. The new partners include Chick-fil A, Best Western International, Hyatt, Lexmark, Kelly Services, Smoothie King and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.

"These companies have made a commitment to protecting our nation's lawful workforce," said ICE Director John Morton in a statement. "This is not just about smart business; it's about doing what is right in the eyes of the law and supporting U.S. companies who are committed to hiring a legal workforce."

IMAGE partners must join the online employment eligibility tool known as e-Verify and submit to annual audits of its I-9 files, in addition to creating a written employment verification policy.

I-9 fines can be costly. Get yourself a copy of Personnel Concepts' I-9 Compliance Kit today and protect yourself against ICE audits.