Recently news of Chipotle being investigated by ICE hit many local, state, and national news sources.  Chipotle is an upscale Mexican grill who has been under the ICE microscope for about a year.  The inspections are not random and have come about as a result of investigation and intelligence gathering. 

Chipotle, unlike many other fast food chains like Burger King, Subway  and McDonalds, is all corporate . Burger King, Subway, McDonalds and many other chains are often franchise so the hiring onous falls on the local owner of the franchise.  What Chipotle has been undergoing is what is known as an I-9 Audit.  What exactly is an I-9 audit?

According to Reuters:


 -An I-9 is an employment eligibility verification form. All U.S. employers must complete and retain an I-9 for each individual they hire in the United States, citizens and noncitizens alike. On the form, the employer must examine the employment eligibility and identity documents an employee presents to determine if the person can work legally in the country.


– The forms are not filed to the government. The form I-9 must be kept by the employer either for three years after the date of hire or for one year after employment is terminated, whichever is later. The form must be available for inspection or auditing by authorized U.S. government officials.


– A company will receive a “notice of inspection” from ICE and then its I-9s will be subject to audit and review. ICE says such inspections are not done at random and are based on leads and intelligence gathering.


– The whole process can take months or even years from the notice of inspection to the closing of the case, which may or may not result in a fine.

The amount of such fines has dramatically increased according to data provided by ICE. Fines totaled just over $1 million in fiscal year 2009 and rose to nearly $7 million in 2010.

(Sources: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Reuters)

Additional information from USCIS 

Companies can run in to trouble if many employees present  fraudulent documents  when they are hired.  Most managers are only trained in the basics of spotting false paperwork.  Since the company retains the I-9 verification forms, there is no red flag for on the spot checks.  Chipotle has fired employees when notified of questionable identity matches.

13 Thoughts to “What is an I-9 Audit?”

  1. Did the evil post on the black screen implicate Chipotles?

    A bill is being passed in Richmond that all companies must use that federal ID program. (Is it called E-verify?)

  2. Pat.Herve

    it is up to the employer to validate the documents they are presented with, they *may*, but do not have to photocopy the documents – so it is really in the employers interest as to how much, and to what extent they validate the documents presented. In the case of Chipotle, corporate is responsible to set the procedures and training, hence, they are responsible. One would think that a large employer would want to insure that they are following the law, but they are more concerned with their shareholders and take the risk that an audit will not be performed.

  3. @Pat, I am not sure it is fair to say that they are more concerned with their shareholders. Additionally, the I-9 audits are more of an Obama administration tool. Remember, under Bush, the raids were physical. In short, I don’t believe we know their motives.

    Most companies want to make a profit. I have a close family member who works for a food chain corporation. (not Chipotles) You don’t get sent to the FBI academy to ask for evidence for to complete an I-9. Fake drivers license, fake paperwork from requiring legal status, fake birth certificates, all are rather well done these days.

    As long as one has tried to follow the law and has acted in good faith, it seems to me that the punishment should go on to the employee if they have presented fake documents. Perhaps this is an even more compelling reason for immigration control to remain at the Federal level. Imagine having to deal with documents from 50 states on top of everything else.

    Innocent until proven guilty.

  4. marinm

    I would tend to agree with MH. I think it’s less a profit motive from ‘corporate’ and more of an issue of the shift or general manager at each location not being forgery/documentation experts.

    I think this is about doing three things. 1. Looking tough on immigration by going for the low hanging fruit. 2. Being able to fine businesses for non-compliance and generate revenue. 3. To encourage the use of e-verify to avoid fines.

    I echo MH, innocent until proven guilty.

  5. Pat.Herve

    there have been cases of I-9 audits, when SSN’s that were obviously false (999-99-9999, 123-45-6789, 000-00-0000) have been used. As well as many employees using the same numbers. When that happens, the employer is complicit, as is should be obvious that the numbers are not correct. When an employer needs to fire half the employees (hundreds in the case of Chipotle and Agriprocessors) – then there is a problem, and the employer is looking the other way.

    There should be an easy to use system for an employer to verify the match of the name and the SSN – E-Verify should be that system, but very few employers actually use it, or want to use it.

  6. hello


    Agree 100% innocent until proven guilty and how good ‘fake’ documents are these days. However, I do disagree about the corporate motive. Lets say I’ve got 5 Chipotle restaurants. What would make me more money, hiring high school students or hiring someone with questionable documents? On one hand you have an employee who knows they can only work X hours a day/week given their age and will be looking for a raise down the road. On the other hand you have someone who will work unlimited hours (possibly without OT pay) and never as for a raise. Pretty simple from a purely profit stand…

    I use to work at Burger King all thru high school. They knew we could only work certain hours during the week and that we would expect OT pay. So what did they do, they hired an all Vietnamese staff to do anything and everything in the back with no chance of a raise or promotion. The same two guys and three girls worked from the time we opened till we closed with not a word from them. They never complained a bit because they knew that one of them had a family member waiting in line to take their spot.

    1. re: Burger King hiring practices. Were those Vietnamese workers undocumented?

      What you described pretty much describes most immigrants. They work hard and do what they are told to do, or at least historically, that has been the way it worked. Many fast food places hire immigrants because many young folks think they are too good to work fast food. Immigrants are often more willing. Its hard to manage teenagers. Just ask their parents. Plus they argue, many smack gum in the customer’s face, chat it up with their friends and make immigrants just more desirable workers. I believe I am saying there is an established work ethic. No all teenagers lack a work ethic but too many do.

      Chipotle pays well compared to many fast food places. No one has accused them of paying under the table. If they have workers with documentation, then they will be paying them like the documents are valid.

  7. hello

    I hear ya about “many young folks think they are too good to work fast food”. The second I turned the legal age to work my parents made me, for everything I had or wanted. At 15 years and 8 months my parents cut off everything, no more school clothes, no $ for movies, no $ for food/school lunch, nada, nothing, zilch.

    If I wanted a car I had to first, get a car (received a ’74 VW that didn’t even run), then go out and get my own car insurance policy. What did I do? I got a job at Burger King and bought VW car manuals. Got it to run, got it inspected and then bought my own insurance policy and drove to school while most other kids just took the keys from mommy or daddy and showed up to school in their peeps ride. At a cost of %0. Long story short… life lesson… priceless.

    1. My kids worked early also and would say it was a good life’s lesson. They are very proud of it. Their humble beginnings involved scooping ice cream.

      No one gave them cars or anything else.

  8. hello

    “Were those Vietnamese workers undocumented?” – most were legit, when I was first hired. But that soon changed. I remember giving them a ride home once (4 of them) to their house off of Princedale (13 of them lived there). Then, after 14 hour days for weeks on end some of them got a bit upset because they were only getting paid $4.25, minimum wage at the time, for about 3 years. When they spoke up what do you think happened?

    They got fired and one of the residents of the house they were staying in knew a cousin, bother, sister, aunt, uncle, friend that would take the job. And that just kept going the entire time I worked there all thru high school until I graduated, left there, and got my first full time job.

  9. Wolverine

    Agree with both hello and Moon: excellent life’s lesson. When my kids got their first cars in the 1990’s, it was Dad who laid down most of the cash on the spot. But, from then on, no gas money and no free insurance. Those kids had to find jobs, and every month had to show up at the Wolverine Automobile Finance and Repo Company with repayment in hand. Great lesson in preparation for later facing the rising costs of college. Those kids did everything from wait tables to fry cook to picking up campus recycle material. We considered the whole thing an additional B.A. in Personal Finance. Turned out that the kids eventually got smarter about personal finance than their father. My son even turned down an offer of becoming a legacy pledge at his father’s old fraternity, stating a preference for using that cash to cut back on his future student loan needs. As they used to say, it’s nice when a plan comes together.

    1. I set up a deal on the insurance, Wolverine. If the kid got a B and qualified for the sizable good student discount, I paid. If they didn’t, they paid. One did, one didn’t.

  10. George S. Harris

    @Posting as Pinko
    The bill you are thing of covers companies doing business with the state and contracts worth more than $50,000.

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