HSI Conducting I-9 Audits at Increased Rate
MISSION – Homeland Security Investigations is conducting audits and inspections of I-9 forms on big businesses and local shops at a higher rate this year.
An I-9 form is the verification of employment for anyone working in the U.S.
Everyone who has a job should have filled out this form and provided it to their employer.
Agents with HSI tell CHANNEL 5 NEWS that's not always the case.
They are finding local businesses are out of compliance as more businesses in the Rio Grande Valley respond to HSI I-9 audit requests.
The increase in audits by the federal agency is part of a push from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s acting director.
In December of last year, Tom Homan said, "I want to see, at least, a 400 percent increase in worksite operations. We're not just talking about arresting the aliens at these work sites and putting them in front of a judge and having their cases heard in court. We're talking about employers who knowingly hire these people who are not authorized to work."
Victor Hugas with HSI says the agency wants employers to comply with the law. He added some businesses knowingly avoid the I-9 verification process.
"We've also seen businesses who are blatant violators that staff is all illegal or they're U.S. citizens that aren't being reported for other fraudulent reasons," he says.
Those reasons range, but often they’re so the employee receives government or unemployment benefits.
Not all employers fall into the violator category.
Marco Cavazos heads human resources at a local franchisee. He routinely verifies I-9's before he hires someone.
"We look at the documents and we make sure there's no misspelling, make sure that it matches up. That's basically how we can tell if it's fake or not. Also, we don't use anything that that's expired," says Cavazos.
Hugas is pushing for businesses to complete the quick process of online I-9 verification or face thousands of dollars in fines.
This is the case for some local shops right now. Recent inspections revealed restaurants in our area conducting business under the table.
"They were smuggled into the U.S. They were working there. They were being exploited. They were living inside the restaurants, sleeping on the counter," Hugas explained.
This practice creates an unfair advantage for competitors who are paying their employees' proper wage and benefits.
At Cavazos' workplace, all their applicants have been approved through the verification system.
The business hasn't been served an audit, but it is ready if the day comes.