When ICE Comes Knocking: Preparing Your Restaurant for Immigration Enforcement

The Trump administration has made no bones about its crackdown on illegal immigration. Earlier this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents swept into ninety-eight 7-Eleven stores across the country and demanded proof of employees’ eligibility to work in the United States. The sweep was part of the administration’s efforts to curb illegal immigration by targeting employers, and the message was clear: “Businesses that hire illegal workers are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we are working hard to remove this magnet,” said Thomas D. Homan, Acting Director of ICE. “If you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable.”  

Chris Carlson/AP)

Chris Carlson/AP)

The restaurant industry has good reason to sit up and take notice.  Second only to construction, the industry is the largest employer of undocumented workers, with estimates of around 1.1 million people illegally employed.  Now consider that employers can face up to $10,000 in fines per illegal employee, and you can start to see how important it is to get it right.  Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your restaurant:  

Know the Law 

It’s against the law for an employer to knowingly hire an employee who is not authorized to work in the United States.  Employers are required to verify and document both the identity and the employment eligibility of their employees through the completion of an Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 (Form I-9).  Employers are required to maintain for inspection original I-9s for at least three years after hire or for one year after employment ends, whichever is later.  

Get the Paperwork Right 


The I-9 Form sets forth a list of documents which the government finds to be acceptable to verify identity and eligibility.  Do not narrow the acceptable list and do not refuse to accept documents that reasonably appear to be genuine. You aren’t required to be an expert in authentication, but you can’t accept documents that are obviously fraudulent, either. In some states, employers are required to use E-Verify to corroborate employment eligibility. Regardless of your location, it is your responsibility to make sure that your I-9 paperwork is both accurate and complete.  

Prepare for an Inspection 

With the recent crackdown, chances are higher than ever that ICE could come knocking at your door. Make a plan ahead of time so you’re ready if it happens.  

First, keep your I-9 forms in separate personnel folders that are easily accessible for inspection.  This not only makes them easy to gather, it protects sensitive information that may be contained in the employees’ full personnel files.

Second, prepare and train your management team. An ICE inspection can be overwhelming, so create a roadmap ahead of time for management to follow, including who to call if inspectors show up and what they should and shouldn’t say to them. 

Finally, keep a lawyer on standby. ICE inspections are serious legal matters that can have devastating consequences for your business. An experienced employment law attorney will be able to guide you through the process and ensure that both you and your restaurant are protected through every step of the investigation.