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Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new program to help businesses maintain a legal workforce. Called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employees (IMAGE), the program is completely voluntary and encourages businesses to build a cooperative relationship with the government in order to build best hiring practices. In recent months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has brought an increasing number of criminal prosecutions against employers, and the trend is likely to continue in the coming years. As a result, employers are looking for new information on how to avoid hiring illegal aliens.   

What does the IMAGE program entail? 

Under the IMAGE program, ICE will partner with companies from a cross-section of industries who will serve as charter members and as liaisons to the broader business community. Businesses must comply with a series of best practices established by ICE, including the use of the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program, administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program is a free Internet-based system that provides a link to federal databases to help employers determine the eligibility of new hires. Companies must also agree to a Form I-9 audit by ICE. In addition, IMAGE partners would need to create an internal training program for completing I-9 forms and detecting fraudulent documents as well as arrange for periodic audits by neutral parties and establish a process for responding to “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration.   

What are ICE's 'Best Hiring Practices'?

  • Use the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program for all hiring;
  • Establish an internal training program, with annual updates, on how to manage completion of Form I-9 (Employee Eligibility Verification Form), how to detect fraudulent use of documents in the I-9 process, and how to use the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program;
  • Permit the I-9 and Basic Pilot Program process to be conducted only by individuals who have received this training—and include a secondary review as part of each employee’s verification to minimize the potential for a single individual to subvert the process; 
  • Arrange for annual I-9 audits by an external auditing firm or a trained employee not otherwise involved in the I-9 and electronic verification process;
  • Establish a self-reporting procedure for reporting to ICE any violations or discovered deficiencies;
  • Establish a protocol for responding to no-match letters received from the Social Security Administration;
  • Establish a Tip Line for employees to report activity relating to the employment of unauthorized aliens, and a protocol for responding to employee tips; 
  • Establish and maintain safeguards against use of the verification process for unlawful discrimination; 
  • Establish a protocol for assessing the adherence to the “best practices” guidelines by the company’s contractors/subcontractors; and 
  • Submit an annual report to ICE to track results and assess the effect of participation in the IMAGE program. 

What benefits does IMAGE hold for employers?    

In return for complying with the program’s requirements, employers will receive training and education from ICE on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection, and anti-discrimination laws. ICE will also consult on the hiring and employment practices of IMAGE partners and work with them to correct minor compliance issues that are detected either through the initial I-9 audit or thereafter. Companies that comply with the terms of IMAGE will be designated as "IMAGE-certified," a distinction that is likely to become an industry standard in the future.  Becoming "IMAGE-certified" could lessen the likelihood that your company is found in violation. IMAGE participation may also be considered a mitigating factor in the determination of civil penalty (fine) amounts should they be levied.     

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like more information on the Basic Pilot Employment Verification or IMAGE programs and whether they might meet your company’s needs.