On May 12, federal immigration officers swooped down on a meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa, and arrested almost 400 workers. Today the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) is cracking down on the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. as never before. What ICE defines as “knowingly” hiring illegal aliens could cost your company fines, asset seizure, or result in arrests.

ENSURE THAT ALL COMPLY You can prevent that by requiring every new hire to fill out an I-9 form, which attests to the employee's right to legally work in the U.S. Attorney Jacob Monty, an immigration expert, says that the second page of I-9 contains a new list of acceptable documents employees can use to establish identity and employment eligibility.

“We're faithfully and rigorously doing the whole I-9 process,” says John Kulp, president of Kulp's of Stratford, a Wisconsin roofing company. Several months ago, Kulp audited his company's I-9 process and calls it “enlightening.” It didn't expose anybody as being illegal, but the forms weren't consistently filled out properly. “I had to go back and fill in a few holes,” he says. As a result, the owner took charge of the I-9 process himself, reviewing each form when the company makes a new hire.

Jacob Monty, of Monty Partners LLP, in Houston, also recommends establishing a protocol so that you know exactly what to do if you receive a “no-match” letter from the Social Security Administration notifying you that an employee has a suspicious Social Security Number.

Another suggestion: Include language in subcontractor agreements indicating that subs are expected to follow the law regarding immigration.

ONLINE COMPLIANCE E-Verify, a Web site provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, can tell you, at no cost, whether a new hire can legally work in the U.S. Monty says the site is “a good way to establish a level of compliance,” but that “some employers are antagonistic toward it because it certainly will be harder to hire some people.” He suggests that this extra step might be a good idea if you're “the biggest contractor in town,” or if you do government or military work because you may be on ICE's radar anyway.

One owner REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR spoke with, who requested anonymity, says that he prefers taking his chances. “I hire undocumented employees,” he admits. “Some provide documentation, and I take it at face value. Some don't, and they're on a different pay structure.” Why risk it? “I'd like to comply,” he says, “but U.S.-born people don't want to do this labor-intensive work. I haven't had a U.S.-born person apply for a job in 16 years.”