10-4 on the I-9

Editor's Message

10-4 on the I-9

Are you prepared for an audit?

For almost 15 years, SBCA members have been going to Washington, DC and explaining to members of Congress, the staff of federal agencies and the White House how our nation’s broken immigration system is harming American businesses. Many companies in the manufacturing and construction industries are facing an acute labor shortage, and our current laws are making the situation worse.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is continuing efforts to strictly enforce regulations pertaining to Form I-9. USCIS states the I-9 “is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States.”

The Trump administration’s desire to establish a “rule of law” foundation throughout the federal government means that some U.S. employers have witnessed a significant increase in I-9 audits, and component manufacturers (CMs) have felt the impact. Steven Spradlin, president of Capital Structures in Fort Smith, Arkansas, was recently notified he’d be subject to an audit. Within three days, an auditor and agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) office showed up and collected all of Capital Structures' original I-9 forms and payroll information. Shortly thereafter, Spradlin was informed by HSI that 14 of his employees’ I-9 forms weren’t in compliance, and he had no alternative to letting them go. “It was a real blow. Many of those people worked here for almost 15 years. They have American-born kids in high school, junior high and grade school, and many have been in the States for 20 years.”

John Herring, CEO of A-1 Roof Trusses in St. Lucie, Florida, has seen the same thing happen around Florida and says the problem is complex: “If companies aren’t using the federal government’s E-Verify program to vet their entire workforce, they are likely going to face some immediate workforce challenges.”

The workers Spradlin let go weren’t deported, and he indicated it’s likely these highly experienced workers will go to work somewhere else in the United States until their next employers are subject to I-9 audits. That outcome probably isn’t what the government intends, which Spradlin points out is unfortunate for everyone.

Given this uptick in enforcement actions, SBCA's legal counsel, Kent Pagel, has started giving presentations to CMs on how to prepare for an I-9 audit by reviewing and assembling the necessary documentation. After Pagel’s presentation at the Truss Manufacturers Association of Texas (TMAT), SBCA President Jack Dermer said everyone better understood “the importance of making sure all the forms were filled out right. Having incorrectly filled out forms is just as bad as not having the forms.”

This is key. If you have a small human resources department, or if you get employees from temporary employment agencies that take care of the paperwork, it can be easy to end up with incomplete I-9 documentation.

Dermer added that, after listening to Pagel’s presentation, it was clear to him an audit is not a question of “if” but of “when”: “Everybody’s going to have to go through this sooner or later.” A good proactive step is to listen to Pagel’s presentation (available to SBCA members at sbcindustry.com/I-9). Another good step is to attend BCMC in Omaha and learn other CMs’ best practices for preparing for an I-9 audit and what to do when an audit actually takes place.

In the long-term, there is some hope for positive immigration reform. Due to the labor shortage facing many industries, members of Congress are acutely aware something needs to be done. One example is a bill recently introduced by Ron Johnson (R-WI) that would allow states to create their own work visa pilot programs. Contact your lawmakers today to share how immigration issues are affecting your business and voice support for solutions like this.