No one has been fined for not filing out an I-9 form

  hmmmm.... no one has been cited in arizona in 4 years for failing to fill out an I-9 form. those are the forms you fill out when you get a new job and which require you to provide several ID's to prove your an american


I-9 form back in spotlight
CofC seeks training, tax credit

Mary Jo Pitzl
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 19, 2005 12:00 AM

It won't stop illegal immigration, but a proposal from business leaders aims to help employers avoid federal hiring penalties and get a $250 tax credit for the effort.

The idea is to give Arizona employers training in how to fill out Form I-9, a document that has been a federal requirement since the last major immigration overhaul in 1986.

"The main form is one page, which no one can seem to get right," said Julie Pace, co-chair of Arizona Chamber of Commerce's immigration task force.

Those who don't get it right face financial penalties that range from $100 to $1,000. No penalties have been issued to employers in the state for more than four years, but chamber officials said they fear employer audits will return, given the debate raging about illegal immigration.

Chamber officials say employers need help to fill out the form accurately the first time, instead of facing penalties after the fact. They think training sessions similar to continuing legal education, coupled with a $250 tax credit, will do the trick.

Others think the idea is a non-starter.

"That's a big 'No,' " said state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. Pearce is chairman of one of the two House appropriations committees and is one of the Legislature's most outspoken critics of illegal immigration.

"They're looking to make an issue out of a law that they should have been following anyway," he said.

The training program is the chamber's attempt to answer critics who say employers should be subject to tougher penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants.

Deterrent didn't work

Form I-9 was created through the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act as a way to deter illegal applicants. By requiring all new hires to show documents that establish their identity and their eligibility for employment, it was hoped that illegal workers wouldn't bother to apply.

It hasn't worked out that way, given that fake Social Security numbers and other forms of identification can be obtained easily.

Employers are not required to check the validity of their hires' paperwork, but they must vouch that the documents appear to be "genuine" and to attest that "to the best of my knowledge the employee is eligible to work in the United States."

Employers are in trouble if they fill out the one-page form incorrectly.

Kevin Rogers, a Valley farmer and president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said that he's filled out I-9s for years and hasn't found them particularly troubling.

Still, he said any business would benefit from tips about how to navigate the forms. However, he hesitated when asked about the idea of a tax credit for going to a training session.

"If the state wants to give me a $250 tax credit to fill out a form I have to do anyway, I'd probably take it," Rogers said.

Pace, an employment-law attorney who has dealt with the forms for years, said that they are fraught with problems, from the lack of updated guidance from the federal government, to how to obtain a translator if one is needed.

Roxanne Bacon, another local employment-law attorney, called the form "deceptively simple."

"The I-9 form is dreadful," Bacon said. "You do need training."

Extent is unclear

For example, employers can be sanctioned for "overdocumenting," or providing multiple documents when only one is requested. Likewise, questions remain about what an employer should do when an employee provides updated information, or when an employee's legal status changes, such as from a lawful permanent resident to a U.S. citizen.

The extent of the problem is unclear. In 1997-98, the federal government did audits in the Phoenix area and cited 68 employers for not getting the I-9 paperwork exactly right, Pace said.

Since 9/11, there has been no enforcement, as immigration officials have focused on other issues, such as smuggling and border protection.

Pace said the training idea should head off some employment problems, but acknowledged it's not a panacea for illegal immigration.

"It won't fix the whole problem, no," she said, noting that the solution has to come from Congress, not the state Legislature.

Bacon, while a fan of training, said that it would do little to stop illegal immigration. That will happen only when policymakers address the economic realities that make people come to the United States from Mexico and that make the U.S. labor market welcome cheap labor.

"What would be really beneficial is to train Congress to get a brain," Bacon said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8963.