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Updated: 8-12-08

Frequently Asked Questions About Worksite Enforcement

Why is worksite enforcement important?

  • Employment is a primary driving force behind illegal immigration. By working with employers to ensure a legal workforce, ICE is able to stem the tide of those who cross our borders illegally or unlawfully remain in our country to work.

What’s the harm of illegal aliens working in the U.S.?

  • Illegal aliens often turn to criminal activity: including document fraud, Social Security fraud or identify theft, in order to get jobs. Such crimes adversely affect the lives of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, and it can take years for victims to repair the damage.
  • The demand for fraudulent documents created by illegal aliens creates thriving criminal enterprises that supply them.
  • Every job taken by an illegal alien is a job taken from a lawful U.S. worker.
  • Employers often exploit illegal aliens by ignoring worker safety and wage laws.
  • Illegal aliens are easy targets for criminals who want to use them to gain access to sensitive facilities or to move illegal products.

How do businesses and communities suffer?

  • Responsible employers who seek to conduct their business lawfully are put at an unfair disadvantage as they try to compete with unscrupulous businesses. Such businesses gain a competitive edge by paying illegal alien workers low wages.

How does ICE determine which employers to investigate?

  • ICE does not randomly target employers. All investigations and arrests are based on specific intelligence obtained from a variety of sources.

Why aren’t more employers arrested and charged?

  • In 2007, more than 90 individuals in company supervisory chains were criminally arrested for charges, including harboring illegal aliens, knowingly hiring them or other criminal violations tied to illegal immigration.
  • The presence of illegal aliens at a business does not necessarily mean the employer is responsible. Developing sufficient evidence against employers requires complex, white-collar crime investigations that can take years to bear fruit.
  • ICE builds worksite investigations in stages.

For example:

    • After receiving information that illegal aliens may be employed at a specific location, agents investigate to determine the merits of that intelligence.
    • Once that intelligence is substantiated, ICE may conduct a worksite enforcement operation, arresting employees and collecting additional evidence such as computers and paperwork.
    • ICE investigators then comb through the data to determine whether a business owner or managers are knowingly hiring illegal aliens. In some cases investigators do not find such evidence.
    • After presenting evidence to federal prosecutors, ICE may be authorized to arrest managers or company owners for criminal violations.

What types of industries does ICE target?

  • No industry, regardless of size, type or location is exempt from complying with the law.
  • ICE focuses on employers who are egregiously violating immigration laws, especially when those violations can compromise our nation’s security.

How successful has ICE been in its worksite enforcement efforts?

  • In fiscal year 2007, ICE secured more than $30 million in criminal fines, restitutions, and civil judgments in worksite enforcement cases. We arrested 863 people in criminal cases and made more than 4,000 administrative arrests. That is a tenfold increase over just five years before.
  • The number of criminal and administrative arrests has steadily increased over the past few years. Those arrested criminally include a variety of persons–corporate officers, employers, managers, contractors and facilitators. In criminal cases, ICE often pursues charges of harboring illegal aliens, money laundering and/or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. Harboring illegal aliens is a felony with a potential 10-year prison sentence. Money laundering is a felony with a potential 20-year prison sentence.
  • ICE has found these criminal sanctions to be a far greater deterrent to illegal employment schemes than administrative fines.
  • These arrests also include illegal aliens charged with criminal violations. Aliens have been charged with possession or sale of fraudulent documents, identity theft, Social Security fraud or re-entry after deportation.

graph of worksite arrests


Fiscal Year 2008 accomplishments so far (October 2007 – August 2008)

  • As of August, ICE made more than 1,000 criminal arrests tied to worksite enforcement investigations.
  • Of the 1,022 individuals criminally arrested, 116 are owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees facing charges including harboring or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The remaining workers criminally arrested are facing charges including aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud.
  • ICE has also made more than 3,900 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite enforcement operations.

What can employers do to help ensure they have a legal workforce?

  • The law is clear - employers have an affirmative obligation to verify that their employees are legally able to work in the United States.
  • ICE’s goal is to help those companies that want to obey the law and use our investigative and regulatory authority to stop those companies that do not.
  • ICE seeks to create a culture of compliance by enlisting responsible employers of every size and description in partnerships designed to prevent the hiring of illegal aliens in the first place.

ICE’s IMAGE Program Assists Employers

  • ICE unveiled the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program in July 2006. ICE recognizes that the majority of employers in this country want to comply with the nation’s immigration laws. Yet, every day employers are confronted with illegal aliens attempting to secure jobs through fraudulent means, including the use of counterfeit documents and stolen identities.
  • IMAGE fosters partnerships between ICE and businesses, promoting the use of screening tools, best practices, and continuing education to determine employment eligibility based on immigration status. The program begins with a self-assessment of hiring practices and helps uncover vulnerabilities to illegal activity that are related to immigration status. Technical tools to screen Social Security numbers and other information on job applicants and existing employees are integrated with best practices to lead to a high level of assurance that all of a participating business’s employees are legally eligible for employment.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was established in March 2003 as the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is comprised of five integrated divisions that form a 21st century law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities.

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