The Department of Homeland Security launched a new campaign to compel employers to use the E-Verify online system by issuing notices of intent to audit records to 1,000 employers across the country.

The announcement came at a Nov. 19 symposium in Washington, D.C. The symposium was hosted by two DHS agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Citizenship & Immigration Services.

“It appears some of the firms receiving the notices of intent are agricultural employers,” said Frank Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.

The audits focus on businesses under investigation relating to I-9 forms — required documents verifying the eligibility of new workers — or because they are connected to public safety and national security, according to an ICE news release. The names and locations of the businesses were not released. An ICE spokeswoman said 150 California companies are being audited.

The agency also used the symposium to announce a new “I E-Verify” campaign, which highlights employers’ commitment to working with DHS to maintain a legal workforce and to reduce the use of fraudulent identity documents, the release said.

“This action emphasizes the importance of careful and accurate completion and proper retention of I-9 documentation, including proper training and self audit procedures for every employer,” Gasperini said.

The government’s aggressive push for I-9 compliance is evidenced by just released statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

So far this year, 142 firms have received notices of intent, compared with 32 in all of 2008. This year’s fines could total nearly $16 million.

The 1,000 notices of intent mark the second major audit effort this year. In July, 654 businesses were issued notices. Sixty-one of those businesses have been issued notices of intent to fine. Those fines could total more than $2.3 million.

“It is clear the emphasis continues to be on enforcement at the employer level, that I-9 compliance is critical, and that there is a major effort under way to push all employers into the E-Verify program,” Gasperini said.