Growers and other produce operations should prepare for increased enforcement by federal immigration agents in their operations, industry advocates and farm leaders warn.
 
In a blog post on the Western Growers website, the group said President Donald Trump’s late January executive order on interior immigration enforcement is likely to result in more Form I-9 audits.
 
“This means that employers should be proactive to recognize and correct Form I-9 problems before (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) comes knocking on the door,” according to the blog post, written by communications manager for for Western Growers. Paperwork mistakes or technical errors can result in costly penalties for employers, according to Western Growers. The group also offered members a document advising what to do in the case of an ICE visit.
 
The I-9 form asks the employer to review and record each worker’s eligibility documents and determine if they appear to be genuine.
 
Employers should regularly perform internal audits to correct potential issues, according to Western Growers.
 
“If employers wait to make corrections after ICE sends a ‘Notice of Inspection,’ they will likely incur much steeper fines and penalties, up to $1,100 for each I-9 or employee for even ‘minor’ technical violations,” Janas wrote.
 
Fines can be assessed up to $16,000 for knowingly employing unauthorized workers, the post said.
 
More aggressive I-9 audits have already started in California, Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers, said earlier in February.
 
“We have already heard that California is going to do a lot more audits, and we’re hearing similar things from other parts of the country,” he said. “We expect on-farm visits by ICE, more audits and more workplace raids.”
 
Apparently some workplace raids in the San Diego area are not leading to fines of employers, he said, but “voluntary” participation in the E-Verify program. E-Verify is a web-based system that compares information from a prospective employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to Department of Homeland Security, Social Security Administration, and Department of State records to confirm the person is authorized to work in the U.S.
 
“(ICE) is finding 30% to 40% of folks are falsely documented and they are saying, ‘We’re not going to fine you but you need to voluntarily do E-Verify,” Gasperini said. “Employers don’t have a lot of choice.”
 
Businesses who contract with the federal government must participate in the E-Verify program. Five or six states also have mandatory E-Verify requirements but typically have “workarounds” or exemptions for farmers, Gasperini said. 
 
One executive order, circulated as a draft but not yet published as of Feb. 10, deals with guest worker temporary visa programs, including the H-2A guest agricultural worker program. Beyond stressing a “hire American” agenda, the order may also require annual site visits by government officials for every H-2A workplace annually, Gasperini said.