As part of the government's new immigration enforcement strategy, 180 businesses in five states, including Tennessee, will be audited to make sure they are not hiring illegal workers.
"ICE is committed to establishing a meaningful ... inspection program to promote compliance with the law," said Raymond Parmer Jr., acting special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations in New Orleans, in a news release.
Thirty businesses in Tennessee are on the audit list, but the names of the companies or exact locations couldn't be provided because of "the ongoing, law enforcement sensitive nature of these audits," the news release states.
BY THE NUMBERS
Between April 30, 2009, the implementation of new ICE worksite enforcement strategy, and Nov. 19, 2009:
* 45 businesses and 47 individuals debarred*
* 142 notices of intent to fine totaling $15.9 million
* 45 final orders totaling $798,179
* 1,897 cases initiated
* 1,069 Form I-9 Inspections
* Note: A contractor excluded from government contracting and approved subcontracting for a certain period of time.
Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
What is an I-9?*An Employment Eligibility Verification Form required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to verify the identity and eligibility to work of an individual.
*All employees must complete this form and determine whether the elegibility documents reasonably appear to be genuine and related to that specific individual.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
The other four Southern states are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, although it's a nationwide initiative.
The notices, sent out on March 1 didn't come as a surprise to local immigration attorney Terry Olsen.
"I think you are going to start seeing a lot more audits," he said. "From what I've seen and talking to employers, they didn't think it was going to come but now they are here, and I think most of the businesses in our area, the ones that are going to get audited, are inadequately prepared."
Audits involve a comprehensive review of Form I-9s, which employers are required to complete and retain for each individual hired in the United States.
Companies were chosen based on "unauthorized workers located at critical infrastructure facilities and egregious employers who knowingly employ unauthorized workers and often commit associated labor and health violations," according to Temple Black, spokesman for ICE.
The main objectives, he said, are to penalize employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers and also to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants.
But Mr. Olsen, also chairman of the Tennessee Bar Association immigration law section, said the audits can have a negative impact on the economy.
"I think right now it can actually deter international business and companies from hiring," he said.
Mr. Olsen said that, after speaking to several employers, many were wary of hiring workers who seemed foreign because, even if they use tools such as E-verify -- a Web-based system that compares information from the I-9 form against federal government databases to verify workers' employment eligibility -- it doesn't always identify someone who is unauthorized to work.
But he also understands why the government is instituting the audits, he said.
"The U.S. government is trying to show they are trying to enforce (immigration law)," he said. "If we are going to have any type of comprehensive immigration reform, it's going to be very hard to accomplish if the people who are against (it) say, 'You have all these people who are illegal and are not doing anything about it.'"