Why the I-9 Audit Process is More Like Football Than Soccer

"Soccer and football (as well as football’s distant cousin, rugby), are commonly thought to have all descended from the same simple, noble Greek game called Harpastum.  However, as each sport evolved, football became reliant on precision and rules, while soccer stayed simple (and “beautiful,” according to the rest of the world). 

ICE’s I-9 audit procedure has taken a similar divergence from its original goals.  Emboldened by the Obama Administration’s April 2009 directive that it would increase worksite enforcement, ICE has created a back office, whose agents are tasked solely with scrutinizing each I-9 form completed by an employer, with the purpose of finding errors small or large which can be used to ratchet up fines against an employer, regardless of an employer’s general level of compliance and good faith.  

ICE will fine an employer for the following, NFL rulebook-style transgressions: Signing the I-9 form in Section 3 rather than in Section 2; failing to ensure that a permanent resident employee filled in his or her Alien number in Section 1, even when the same Alien number appears in List A in Section 2; failing to write the full address of the worksite in Section 2; and listing identity and employment authorization data in the wrong section of the form.

None of these violations has any bearing on whether the employer verified the employee’s documentation of identity and employment authorization.  Rather, these are just a few instances of the more than a hundred ways where an employer can make a potentially costly mistake in completing an I-9 form.  This type of cat-and-mouse game does nothing to further the main goals of IRCA, and only serves to tie up employer resources at a time when our economy desperately needs increased productivity; results in millions of dollars in needless fines; and prevents ICE resources from finding the true bad actors who exploit unauthorized aliens.  

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect ICE to turn the I-9 audit process into a “beautiful game” of continuous flow until a harmful penalty is committed. Still, I invite ICE auditors, their attorneys and higher-ups in the agency to watch Manchester City play Arsenal, or Real Madrid face off against Valencia, and apply some of the lessons in play to their own game." - John Quill guest blogging for Angelo Paparelli, Jan. 27, 2013.