ICE is stepping up efforts to enforce the laws that prohibit businesses from hiring illegal workers.
Spokesperson, Lauren Mack, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tells NBC 7, ICE has initiated 35 I-9 audits in San Diego county since Oct. 1, 2019.
Although, Mack can't share which businesses are or were in question. Mack said it's standard practice for ICE agents to prosecute those who are not compliant with I-9 worker verification documents.
Form I-9 is the core of E-Verify. E-Verify is an internet-based system that compares information from Form I-9 to government records to confirm that an employee is authorized to work in the U.S., according to the USCIS website.
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.
“Under that executive order, which we call BAHA, in April 2017, President Trump said, 'I want the government to look at our employment-based immigration practices, look at the laws, look at the regulations, look at the policies, see where we can tighten things up a little bit more, so we are protecting U.S. workers'. So in part of that, the government increased the number of I-9 audits that they were conducting,” said Robidoux.
As a result, more arrests have been made in recent years.
According to the Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE made more than 1,500 work-related arrests in 2018, compared to only 172 the year before.
While ICE cannot confirm or identify where audits are initiated, Robidoux said the government tends to target specific communities.
“They [ICE] will do more audits of construction companies and in the hospitality industry, so where we typically think there might be more undocumented workers than not,” said Robidoux.
On Thursday, Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café on Dewey Road at Liberty Station announced its last day in business was Wednesday due to an audit.
"The discovery of a large number of unauthorized workers has so disrupted operations we have had no choice but to close,” the Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café's Facebook post said.
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.
"What happens during an I-9 audit is initially the homeland security investigations will issue an I-9 notice of inspection and with that notice of inspection, the employer turns over their original I-9's for review by the government. When the government goes through that, Homeland Security Investigations, do a check to see if the individuals whom the I-9's have been presented have work authorization in the U.S.," explained Robidoux.
According to Robidoux, the government's fine for a technical or procedural failure can cost about $230 to $2,200. If an employer knowingly hires an individual who is unauthorized to work it could cost him or her up to $22,000.
Mack said ICE's I-9 enforcement helps combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor, and other illegal practices.