As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducts more and more I-9 inspections (the ICE director stated they would be increasing by 400 to 500%), employers need to know how ICE calculates any fines assessed against employers. AILA’s I-9 Verification Committee, through Rick Gump and Eileen Momblanco, recently drafted a fine Practice Pointer, which I encourage AILA members to read. For non-AILA members, this article will discuss the same concepts.

It begins for an employer when ICE serves a Notice of Inspection (NOI)/subpoena to review the employer’s I-9 forms as well as many other HR-related records. The NOI gives the employer three business days to provide the subpoenaed documents. The ability to receive an extension of time to provide the I-9 forms and other documents seems to vary with what ICE office you are dealing. I have been successful in receiving extensions in almost all NOIs, but I never ask for more than one week and usually only five days. After the ICE auditor reviews the I-9 forms, the employer will receive a series of notices – Notice of Suspect Documents and Notice of Technical and Procedural Failures are the most common notices.

If substantive paperwork, hiring, or continuing to employ (H/CTE) violations are found, ICE normally issues a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF), although if the errors are less than 10%, ICE usually only issues a Warning Notice without a penalty. The fine/penalty amount in the NIF is determined by ICE attorneys and special agents in charge. Fines can be challenged by requesting review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) within 30 days of receipt of the NIF. If litigated, the ALJ can adjust the fine amount.

In November 2008, ICE issued a Memorandum, “Revised Administrative Fine Policy Procedures”, which contained a set of matrixes and required ICE to follow specific procedures for calculating paperwork and H/CTE fines. The Policy Procedures state the following to determine the level of fine within each matrix:

- Use the number of violations of each type (paperwork or H/CTE) as the numerator and the number of total employees as the denominator; and
- The percentage calculated above would be used to determine the percentage box in the fine matrix to start, and then fines could be adjusted up or down five percent for each of the five factors - business size, good faith, seriousness, employment of unauthorized aliens, and prior history with ICE/INS.

However, ALJs can consider any factors it deems necessary to calculate an appropriate fine based on the case at hand. Cases with both paperwork and H/CTE violations sometimes produce higher fines for a greater number of paperwork violations compared to fines for a fewer number of H/CTE violations.

To increase the level of penalties, ICE has begun to create a higher level of fine on each matrix by adding the number of paperwork violations to the number of H/CTE violations as the numerator, which in some cases dramatically increases the level of the fine in each matrix. Here are two examples:

- If you have 100 employees with 10 substantive paperwork violations and 20 H/CTE violations, you add 10 + 20 = 30 to calculate 30% violations for each matrix. This would lead to a fine of $60,270 using the 2017 matrixes.
- If you have 100 employees with 10 substantive paperwork violations and 20 H/CTE violations, you add 10/100 = 10% for paperwork and 20/100 = 20% for H/CTE violations for each matrix. This would lead to a fine of $40,560 without any aggravating or mitigating factors applied.

In other words, instead of taking the number of paperwork violations and dividing them by the

number of employees, and then calculating the H/CTE violations the same way, ICE adds the

number of paperwork violations to the number of H/CTE violations when calculating the

violation percentage from each matrix. This is resulting in a higher fine based on the matrix

percentage of violations for each of the paperwork and H/CTE violations.

ICE has defended this calculation method by pointing to language in the 2008 fine policy procedures, “The recommended base fine amount is determined by dividing the number of ‘knowing hire,’ ‘continuing to employ,’ and substantive verification violations by the total number of Forms I-9 presented for inspection to determine a violation percentage.”

However, as the Practice Pointer states:

On the next two pages, ICE instructs agents to “divide the number of ‘knowing hire’ and ‘continuing to employ’ violations by the number of employees for whom a Form I-9 should have been prepared to obtain a violation percentage” and to “divide the number of substantive violations by the number of employees for whom a Form I-9 should have been prepared to obtain a violation percentage.” Each instruction is paired with a separate fine matrix and no other ICE issued documentation instructs agents or attorneys to add the violations together. ICE’s I-9 inspection webpage also makes no mention of the double-dipping method of fine calculation.

In evaluating NIFs, attorneys for employers should ask these questions:

1. Are the fines calculated within the confines of the statute as updated by DOJ?

2. What baseline and method did ICE use to calculate the fine in the instant case?

3. What factors were used to aggravate or reduce the level of the fine?

4. Were the factors appropriately used?

5. Did ICE apply the 5% enhancement for employment of unauthorized aliens to only those violations as opposed to across the board?

6. Did the NIF miscalculate the fines by double-counting violations? And

7. Did ICE make other errors in its calculations?

2. What baseline and method did ICE use to calculate the fine in the instant case?

3. What factors were used to aggravate or reduce the level of the fine?

4. Were the factors appropriately used?

5. Did ICE apply the 5% enhancement for employment of unauthorized aliens to only those violations as opposed to across the board?

6. Did the NIF miscalculate the fines by double-counting violations? And

7. Did ICE make other errors in its calculations?

After evaluating these issues and trying to negotiate a settlement, one must assess the propriety of settling with ICE versus challenging the fine with an OCAHO ALJ.

If you want to know more information on I-9 penalties/fines, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.