By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has initiated 35 I-9 audits in San Diego county in the new fiscal year that started October 1, 2019. ICE declined to state which employers were the target of I-9 audit. Generally speaking, ICE’s top industries that are targeted are: construction, hospitality, and manufacturing/food processing. However, ICE spokeswoman, Lauren Mack, said ICE audits combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor, and other illegal practices.

Kimberley Best Robidoux, a San Diego attorney who specializes in business immigration, attributes the increase in I-9 audits to President Trump's 2017 “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. Robidoux's observation aligns with San Diego County's most recent 2016 survey of employees who identify themselves as "noncitizen". Most undocumented workers said they were in the cleaning and maintenance field, followed by food preparation and construction jobs.

With potential penalties of $230 to $2292 per I-9 with a substantive error, the penalties can have a severe impact on employers, especially small employers.

Additionally, arrests have drastically increased in recent years. According to the Department of Homeland Security, ICE made more than 1,500 work-related arrests in 2018, compared to only 172 the year before.

If after reading this blog, you are concerned for your company being compliant, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at