I-9 Compliance: What Hotel Employers Should Do Before ICE Comes Knocking

By Kristine Sova Attorney, Law Office of Kristine A. Sova | October 16, 2011

Co-authored by Lesley Pate Marlin, Attorney, Venable LLP

While seemingly unimportant, those pesky one-pagers known as the "Form I-9" that all employers are required to complete for new hires can be the source of significant liability. Since taking office, the Obama Administration has been targeting employer compliance with I-9 paperwork and has drastically increased the number of I-9 audits conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The result? In fiscal year 2010, ICE agents recovered penalties of $6.9 million from businesses, criminally charged nearly 200 business owners and managers with immigration violations, and conducted more than 2,000 compliance audits of employer-prepared I-9 work eligibility forms.

Unfortunately, 2011 has not provided a reprieve for employers. Midway through fiscal year 2011, ICE agents already recovered record penalties of $7.1 million from businesses, criminally charged nearly 160 business owners and managers with immigration violations, and conducted more than 2,300 compliance audits of employer-prepared I-9 forms.

Hotels are Among the Employers Most Likely to be Audited

ICE no longer randomly selects employers for I-9 audits. Instead, ICE targets employers based upon leads and intelligence, whether it be from the public, a referral from another law enforcement agency (such as the Department of Labor), or a news article. In addition, ICE concentrates upon industries notorious for hiring of illegal immigrants as well as businesses that may present vulnerabilities at critical infrastructure sites. As a result, hotels, particularly ones located near airports or mass transit, can expect a greater likelihood of audit.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.