The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a new initiative and best business practices to help employers ensure they are building a legal workforce through voluntary partnerships with the government.
Called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE), the program is designed to build cooperative relationships between government and businesses to strengthen hiring practices and reduce the unlawful employment of illegal immigrants. The initiative also seeks to accomplish greater industry compliance and corporate due diligence through enhanced federal training and education of employers.

As the criminal prosecution of worksite violations has increased in recent years, DHS has been flooded by requests from employers seeking information on how to avoid hiring illegal immigrants.

"Any comprehensive strategy to stem the flow of illegal immigration must address the thousands of employers that hire illegal aliens both wittingly and unwittingly," says Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "If the government is going to fully address the problem of illegal alien employment, it must partner with employers, educate them, and provide them with the tools they need to develop a stable, legal workforce."

According to Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), "Every day [employers] are confronted with illegal aliens attempting to secure jobs through fraudulent means, including the presentation of counterfeit documents and stolen identities."

Under this program, ICE will partner with companies representing a broad cross section of industries in order that these firms may serve as charter members of IMAGE and liaisons to the larger business community. As part of the program, businesses must also adhere to a series of best practices including the use of the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program, administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
To date, more than 10,000 employers across the United States are using the Basic Pilot Employment Verification to check the work authorization of their newly hired employees.

ICE will provide training and education to IMAGE partners on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, and anti-discrimination laws. ICE will also share data with employers on the latest illegal schemes used to circumvent legal hiring processes. Furthermore, ICE will review the hiring and employment practices of IMAGE partners and work collaboratively with them to correct isolated, minor compliance issues that are detected.

Those companies that comply with the terms of IMAGE will become "IMAGE certified," a distinction that ICE believes will become an industry standard. Participation in IMAGE will help companies reduce unauthorized employment and minimize identity theft. An IMAGE participant can better protect the integrity of its workforce by helping ensure that employees are who they represent themselves to be.

As a first step, companies must agree to a Form I-9 audit by ICE. They must also use the Basic Pilot Employment Verification program when hiring employees. This Internet-based system, which is free to employers and available in all 50 states, provides an automated link to federal databases that help employers determine the eligibility of new hires. For more information, visit: www.govinfo.bz/5966-315.

In order to become IMAGE-certified, partners must also adhere to a series of best practices. These include the creation of internal training programs for completing employment verification forms and detecting fraudulent documents. IMAGE partners must also arrange for audits by neutral parties and establish protocols for responding to no-match letters from the Social Security Administration. ICE is also asking employers to establish a tip line for employees to report violations and mechanisms for companies to self-report violations to ICE. For a full list of best practices, visit: www.govinfo.bz/5966-316.