Immigration officials targeting small businesses

A Colorado business group is warning small businesses to make sure their employees are legally allowed to work in the United States.

That’s because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has notified 1,000 small businesses around the nation that it will audit the companies’ employment-verification forms to make sure they haven’t hired undocumented workers.

Because employment in the United States is the single biggest reason illegal immigrants come here, ICE has begun the audits as a way of urging businesses to use a voluntary database it maintains that checks the legal status of hired workers.

This will be the third year ICE has conducted the audits.

“Employers must take the ICE investigations very seriously,” said Tony Gagliardi, Colorado director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Gagliardi said fines can be hefty for even the smallest of violations on employers’ I-9 forms, the employment-verification documents that all employers must maintain on all workers. Those fines can range from $110 to $1,100 for a single, minor technical violation, he said. Incorrect forms also can be used as evidence of knowingly hiring an illegal worker, penalties for which can include fines up to $3,200.

“As always, NFIB is striving to keep its members, and all small business owners, informed of their obligations to comply with numerous federal paperwork requirements, so they can be prepared if an inspector knocks at the door,” said Tony Malandra, a spokesman in the federation’s San Francisco-based national office. “Small businesses face special hardship trying to comply with onerous state and federal regulations. They usually don’t have in-house legal counsel or human-resources experts on hand to advise them.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics estimates there are nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation, most of whom are located in Texas or the East Coast or West Coast states.

Last year, ICE deported nearly 800,000 illegal immigrants, most of which occurred from crossings on the nation’s southern border. That’s an increase of more than 178,000 deportations over 2009, and 275,000 more than in 2008, according to a department report released last month.

Nearly 68,000 of those deportations, however, were from investigations or removal operations, such as the I-9 audits, the report said.


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