Under a program led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), companies are opening their books to federal investigators voluntarily. Immigration officials tout the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program’s benefits to businesses by reducing fines for immigration violations and by improving their image, presumably as a law-abiding employer. ICE Director John Morton told the Associated Press that the program is necessary to supplement an “enforcement-only approach.” The E-Verify program is already becoming common for employers around the country, through mandatory and voluntary compliance. The IMAGE program purports to add another level of security by catching more complicated document fraud.
The Obama administration has led a crackdown on employers that use undocumented immigrant labor recently. It generally prefers to use audits of employment records instead of workplace raids, which were more common under the Bush administration and can draw a great deal of attention. One construction contractor who voluntarily signed on to the program described it as a “major advantage” in his business, saying it prevents more cumbersome immigration audits or raids and improves the business’ image with its customers.
ICE launched the IMAGE program in 2006. It grew slowly, reaching 117 members by July 2011. That month, ICE introduced new, simpler requirements for membership and began promoting the program to more businesses. Between July and November 2011, the program added 22 new members. ICE identifies an increase in enforcement, primarily through company audits, as the main factor driving the rise in membership.
The program supplements the E-Verify system by catching people who use false documents with a different person’s real name and corresponding social security number. This could be a stolen identity, a deceased person, or identity documents freely given to the person. A fraudulent employment document using a matching name and social security number could pass the E-Verify system. The IMAGE program claims to give employers additional resources to screen out unauthorized workers.
IMAGE members must enroll in the E-Verify program, which allows companies to check a new employee’s eligibility against a national database. They must also submit I-9 forms collected from new hires to audit by ICE agents, and they must establish hiring and eligibility verification policies in a form approved by ICE. Member companies must also sign a “partnership agreement” with ICE.
Critics of the E-Verify system, including this immigration attorney, have noted that it has a significant number of errors and inaccuracies in its database. Compliance with E-Verify in states where it is mandatory can lead to increased costs for many employers, despite the supposed cost savings from avoidance of immigration raids. The IMAGE program could have a similar effect. It adds another database to the process and imposes additional administrative costs on employers. Where E-Verify is primarily a program of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), IMAGE belongs to ICE. This gives a federal law enforcement agency direct access to company records, and therefore to employee information. How ICE plans to use that information may not yet be completely clear.
Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab represents employers seeking to employ immigrant workers and job seekers who wish to come here to work. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404.Web Resources
IMAGE Program, U.S. Immigration and Customs EnforcementMore Blog Posts
Ohio’s Proposed Mandatory E-Verify Law – Bad For Ohio’s Employers – Bad for Ohio’s Economy, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, October 28, 2011
Ohio Business Investors Offer Help to Immigrants who Create Jobs, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, October 27, 2011
Fear of Crackdown on Undocumented Immigrant Hits Ohio Farms, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, October 24, 2011