Three Things Every Business Owner Should Know About ICE Audits

business woman filing out a form, immigrationImmigration-related fines for businesses increased in August of 2016, but the total number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audits was declining prior to Donald Trump taking office. The Trump administration has focused heavily on immigration enforcement and is expected to continue doing so. Businesses should expect and be prepared for ICE audits. The following information can help business owners avoid fines and being caught off guard.

Internal audits

Businesses should review all hiring and other human resources policies to ensure written guidelines are up-to-date and being followed by all personnel. Doing so can catch any discrepancies and oversights that could potentially result in unnecessary disruptions to business and thousands of dollars in fines. An immigration attorney can advise on any possible changes to immigration policies that may affect businesses that hire foreign-born workers.

I-9 Employment Eligibility Forms

The I-9 Employment Eligibility forms are used to verify every employee is legally qualified to work in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides webinars and other training tools for human resources personnel to help ensure necessary forms are completed properly and filed correctly. There are some complex nuances regarding how any errors on the forms must be corrected and how to establish a clear audit trail if errors were made by the employer or the employee when filling out the forms.

If an ICE audit occurs

Businesses must not attempt to correct any errors on I-9 documents after they have received a Notice of Inspection from ICE. Agents typically arrive at businesses without providing any Notice of Inspection. Agents will review documents and ask questions about I-9 policies. Companies are not required to respond to all ICE requests immediately.

After the ICE audit is completed, ICE should provide the business with a written notification of the results. This notice will highlight any I-9 form issues or those that appear suspicious. ICE may also state the agency intends to level fines and conduct further investigations or that the business was found to be fully compliant. If ICE does give an intent to fine notification, businesses have 30 days to either negotiate a settlement or request to have a hearing. An immigration lawyer can advise businesses on the best course of action based on their situation and a review of the ICE audit.

The Path to Citizenship for Legal Permanent Residents

A green card, ImmigrationUncertainty surrounding the future of various visas to the United States is prompting many legal permanent residents to pursue American citizenship. For people wishing to remain in the US long-term, pursuing citizenship is a good decision that will provide a solid layer of insulation against what could be a significant chill on the number of H-1B and other visas issued by the government.

Eligibility for Citizenship

Individuals must be able to prove that they were a permanent resident or held a Green Card for at least five years immediately prior to the date they file their application for naturalization. Moreover, applicants must be able to show that they were within the US for at least 1/2 of that time (30 months.)

In addition to establishing residency, individuals are required to demonstrate basic proficiency in English, a basic understanding of US history and government, and they must be willing to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.

“Good Moral Character”

One of the most confusing elements of the eligibility requirements is the “good moral character” clause. Essentially, this means a person without any serious criminal convictions on their record. Individuals who have minor offenses such as speeding, shoplifting, minor in possession, etc., may still be eligible depending on the seriousness of the offenses and how long ago they occurred. It is important to discuss any criminal convictions with a Chicago immigration lawyer prior to filling out the N-400 application.

Tests, Interviews, and Documentation

The application is just the first step in the process. Once the application has been submitted, individuals must submit their biometric data which includes their photo, fingerprints, and signature.

This step is followed by a naturalization interview during which the USCIS officer will inquire about an individual’s family, work, background, etc. At this stage, applicants also need to pass a basic English and Civics exam. There are programs and classes that can help prepare individuals to pass both of these exams.

The final step of the process requires individuals to take the Oath of Allegiance. Once this step is completed, a representative of the USCIS will present the individual with a Certificate of Naturalization. At this point, the applicant no longer needs to worry about any legislative changes to the H-1B or other visa programs because they are formally a US citizen with all the rights and responsibilities that come with it. From start to finish, the process can take between 6 months and 1 year to complete.

Republicans Propose Immigration Legislation that Doesn’t Include Trump’s Wall

the border of America, immigrationWhile many Illinois residents have been concerned about Trump’s stance on immigration, a Republican-proposed immigration reform bill does not include any provisions that would allow the funding of a border wall. Senators Ron Johnson and John McCain and Representative Ken Buck are sponsoring the bill. It would allow each state to establish its own guest worker program. The bill is meant to address the tightening labor market in the U.S. along with the problems that are caused by the caps and requirements for H-1B and H-1A visas. An immigration attorney may help employers secure the visas that they need so that they can get the foreign workers who are needed to fill open positions.

The Problem

Currently, the federal government places an annual cap on the number of foreign workers who can work in the U.S. who are highly skilled. In 2017, the cap was 85,000 workers, and those spots were filled within a few days. Employers such as farmers who need unskilled laborers have an even more difficult time getting the workers that they need. It is extremely difficult to get H-1A visas for migrant farm workers, making the program almost useless for farmers. At the same time, U.S. employers are having trouble finding the workers that they need among the U.S. population, forcing them to leave positions open and unfilled.

What the Bill Would Do

The bill sidesteps many of the problems that lead to political wrangling in Washington, D.C. Called the State-Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, the bill would allow each state 5,000 visas that could be granted to foreign workers regardless of their level of skill. States that didn’t want to participate wouldn’t have to do so. The federal government would be limited to conducting health and security checks on the people who would be granted visas. The bill would also limit the visa holders to working within the state that granted them their visas unless the state had an agreement with another state to accept each other’s visa holders under the program.

The workers would also have to post $4,000 bonds that would be returnable to them when they leave in order to prevent them from illegally working somewhere else.

Trump’s Immigration Order is Affecting International Students

student in fencing, immigrationPresident Trump’s immigration order is affecting international students from countries around the world. Nearly a million international students attend American universities, with numbers continuing to rise. These students contribute to the U.S. economy, and universities across the nation are speaking out against the ban.

Students From Iran Are Most Affected

Nearly 16,000 students were prohibited from entering or re-entering the U.S. in January. The countries affected were:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Syria
  • Yemen
  • Sudan

Over 11,000 of the students were from Iran. The immigration ban once again challenges the already fragile relationship between Iran and the U.S. Immigrant students from these countries should speak to an immigration lawyer in Chicago before attempting to travel.

Financial Costs to Universities Because of Travel Ban

U.S. schools are expected to lose around $500 million because of the travel ban, assuming an average tuition of $33,500 for each of the 16,000 students turned away. In addition, international students contribute over $30 billion to the U.S. economy by purchasing housing, food, utilities, clothing, etc.

Many research universities are panicking because foreign workers are fueling the growth in STEM sectors (science, technology, engineering, and math). International students are increasingly specializing in STEM areas, and when these students are prohibited from studying and working, research will suffer. An immigration lawyer in Chicago can answer questions for students who face uncertainty regarding status.

Universities Are Fighting Back in Support of Students

Universities have united against the Trump administration, releasing statements that reject the blanket ban on immigration solely because of geography. Columbia University, the University of Notre Dame, and Wesleyan are among the institutions that have recently published statements in support of international students. The University of Michigan announced that the school would not share the immigration status of its students with the government. Students who have questions about the travel ban should contact an immigration lawyer in Chicago before leaving the United States.

Awkward Cultural Moments Nothing New for Trump

In November of 2016, Trump made comments to Steve Bannon about making sure that international students would be able to study in the U.S. Bannon’s answer was not promising for international students, as he remarked that most of the CEOs in Silicon Valley were from South Asia or Asia.

In 2015, Harvard student Joseph Choe asked Trump a question about South Korea. Trump interrupted the question and asked if Choe was from South Korea. Choe replied that he was born in Texas. The audience laughed, and Choe’s question remained unanswered.

How is the Immigration Crackdown Affecting Public Safety?

iron net with an American flag, DeportationPresident Trump’s recent crackdown on immigrants has already begun to affect the safety of the American public, and this is just the beginning. Although the immigration crackdown was intended to remove crime-committing immigrants from the U.S., it has begun to affect other types of criminal cases in numerous ways. According to a recent report published by Business Insider, by ramping up deportations- even in sanctuary cities, prosecutors across the United States say that the Trump Administration is forcing undocumented immigrants to do everything they can to avoid law enforcement. Unfortunately, the fear and distrust that has developed throughout the nation is causing these immigrants to decline to testify in criminal cases and even refuse to report crimes.

Deportation Fears Spread Throughout the U.S.

Recently cases of refusal to report or testify for criminal cases have popped up all over the country.

  • In Denver, four undocumented immigrant women refused to cooperate in domestic battery cases because of their fear of deportation.
  • In Austin, Texas, at least one other woman has refused to pursue a domestic violence case because of her fear of being seen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. In other areas of Texas, immigration fears led three other victims to withdraw their charges. And El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal has reported a disturbing 12 percent drop in victims seeking protective orders not long after an unauthorized immigrant was arrested at a courthouse where she was attempting to obtain a protective order.
  • Authorities in Los Angeles have reported a drop of 25 percent in Latino-reported sexual assault cases and a 10 percent drop in domestic violence reports.
  • Chicago, which is a sanctuary city that refuses to comply with ICE requests, has fallen under particular scrutiny, but continues to maintain that the city’s law enforcement officials must build relationships based on trust in order to solve crimes within the community.

Without witnesses and victims to come forward and report crimes or testify against offenders, charges are often dismissed. This results in violent perpetrators never having to suffer consequences for their actions, and as they go free, America’s streets become more dangerous than ever. Unfortunately, sanctuary cities throughout the country who refuse to honor ICE detainer requests continue to be shamed publicly. In the past, however, federal judges have ruled that localities are not in any way obligated to honor such requests as they are not legally binding.