By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law



Since few employers have enrolled in IMAGE ("ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employer"), a voluntary program established in 2006 that allows private industry to partner with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to reduce unauthorized employment, ICE is sponsoring a training session related to IMAGE, I-9 form and E-Verify.

In its email inviting the public to this training session on May 1, 2019 in Winter Haven, Florida, ICE lists the following topics:

• IMAGE program;
• Form I-9 training;
• How to establish an immigration compliance program;
• Proper hiring procedures;
• Detecting fraudulent documents;
• Use of E-Verify (USCIS guest speaker); and
• Anti-discrimination procedures (U.S. Department of Justice guest speaker).

I attended one of these programs in Atlanta in 2014 and found it to be helpful in getting into the mindset of ICE.

Employers seeking certification in IMAGE must agree to:
  • Complete the IMAGE Self-Assessment Questionnaire (Application);
  • Enroll in the E-Verify program within 60 days;
  • Establish a written hiring and employment eligibility verification policy that includes an internal Form I-9 audit at least once a year;
  • Submit to an I-9 Inspection;
  • Review and sign an official IMAGE partnership agreement with ICE.
Upon enrollment and commitment to DHS' best employment practices, program participants will be deemed "IMAGE Certified" – a distinction DHS believes will become an industry standard.

Among immigration compliance attorneys, IMAGE is normally frowned upon to voluntarily enter because of the necessity of undergoing an ICE I-9 audit. However, ICE has made some improvements in IMAGE from when it began, such as ICE waiving potential fines if substantive violations are discovered on fewer than 50% of the required I-9 forms; and if over 50% of the I-9 forms have substantive errors, ICE will mitigate the fines to the statutory minimum of $110 per violation. A top ICE official stated at a 2014 ICE seminar in Atlanta, ICE has not fined any employer with more than 50% error rate even though it has the authority. As the ICE official stated, no employers would enroll in IMAGE if they knew they were going to be fined.

Each employer, with the advice of immigration compliance counsel, needs to make their own decision as to whether to enroll in IMAGE. Many of its aspects may be incorporated in an Immigration Compliance policy - use of E-Verify, conduct an annual internal audit, establish an I-9 Compliance policy, train personnel on the correct procedures, not engage in citizenship status or national origin discrimination, and maintain copies of documents supplied for employment authorization.

The major drawback to IMAGE is granting ICE access to your facility to conduct an I-9 audit. As one ICE official stated, their agency is there to help employers. However, it reminds me of the old saying, “I’m with the government and I’m here to help you.”

If you want to know more information on IMAGE or issues involving employer immigration compliance, 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.