By Thomas Ahearn, ESR news Staff Writer

According to a report in the New York Times, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far in 2010 on employers that hired unauthorized workers not legally eligible to work in the country.

Unlike the immigration raids and work-site roundups popular during the previous administration, the Times reports the Obama administration favors a quieter enforcement strategy that involves federal agents auditing a company’s employee records for illegal immigrant workers, which usually result in the illegal workers being fired by employers.

Over the past year, ICE has conducted audits of employee files — called “silent raids” by some employers — at more than 2,900 companies, the Times reports, and thousands of those workers have been fired, immigrant groups estimate. Although ICE leaves it up to employers to fire workers whose documents cannot be validated, the audits still force businesses not wanting to risk prosecution to fire every suspected illegal worker on payrolls, and not just those working at the time of a raid, according to the Times report.

Due to the shift in the strategy used to uncover illegal workers in U.S., an immigration law consultant quoted in the Times story explained that instead of hundreds of agents going after one company, now one agent can go after hundreds of companies. In the story, ICE states that the goal of the audits is to create a culture of compliance among employers, so businesses need to avoid committing labor abuses and immigration violations — whether knowingly or unknowingly — or risk fines, penalties, and even jail.

Since ICE auditors may examine a company’s Employment Eligibility Verification forms — also known as I-9 forms, which all new hires in the country must fill out — employers need to make sure all employees on payroll are legally eligible to work in the country. Employment Screening Resources (ESR) — a national background screening provider and authorized E-Verify Designated Agent — can help employers virtually eliminate I-9 form errors, improve the accuracy of their reporting, protect jobs for authorized workers, and help maintain a legal workforce. For more information about the E-Verify Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification system, visit