U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Thursday that it will review the hiring records at 1,000 companies nationwide - including 52 in Arizona.
The largest such audit in the agency's five-year history is the latest example of the Obama administration work-site-enforcement strategy of targeting employers rather than employees.
The goal is to reduce the job magnet that drives illegal immigration to the United States, said John Morton, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"If we are going to do that, we are going to have to create a culture of compliance," Morton said.
The campaign is designed to determine if the companies - chosen based on investigative leads and their connection to public safety and national security - have any employees who do not have permission to work in the U.S.
Agents will review each company's I-9 forms, which include an employee's personal information and work-authorization documents. Employers are required to complete and retain the forms for each person hired. The review will determine whether the documents appear genuine and related to that specific individual, the agency said.
Officials would not disclose the names or locations of the companies that will be audited, citing ongoing investigations. Morton said they all have connections to national security or public safety, such as power plants, government facilities and companies in the food industry.
The largest I-9 audit before this new campaign came in July, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement reviewed the hiring records at 654 companies, including 32 in Arizona.
Those reviews resulted in fines for 61 companies and pending fines for 267 others, Morton said. The records at the other 326 businesses were clean.
In Arizona, 14 of the 32 companies were found to be compliant, while the audits of the remaining 18 have not yet been completed, said Vincent Picard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman in Arizona.