State–Federal Clash on Immigration Squeezes California Employers

State–Federal Clash on Immigration Squeezes California Employers

US President Donald Trump’s agenda of expanded detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants has been frustrated by the refusal of some states and cities to participate the federal authorities’ crackdown, which opponents say unfairly targets non-criminals and makes immigrant communities less safe by eroding their trust in the police. Last September, California passed a law prohibiting employers in the state from voluntarily allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents onsite to conduct immigration inspections or to access employee records without a warrant or court order.

In an apparent response to the state’s defiance, ICE has stepped up enforcement raids in California this year, as well as other jurisdictions that have passed “sanctuary” laws barring local authorities from cooperating with federal agents in immigration enforcement. These laws have enraged Trump and ICE director Thomas Homan, who have accused legislators in these areas of endangering citizens and officers to protect undocumented criminals. California lawmakers counter that they are merely insisting that ICE agents show documents they are already federally required to present before conducting inspections.

This tension between Sacramento and Washington has put California employers between a rock and a hard place, Nour Malas reports at the Wall Street Journal, as they receive conflicting instructions from state and federal authorities and fear being targeted by one for cooperating with the other. In response to the recent wave of raids, Democratic State Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned employers that they could face legal action by the state if they voluntarily hand over information about their employees to ICE.

On Tuesday, Becerra’s office issued new guidance for employers to clarify their obligations under the law and answer frequently asked questions. In addition to preventing employers from granting ICE access to their premises without a warrant or subpoena, the state also requires them to follow specific procedures in responding to inspections:

Employers must follow specific requirements related to Form I-9 inspections. For example, within 72 hours of receiving a Notice of Inspection, California employers must post a notice to all current employees informing them of any federal immigration agency’s inspections of Forms I-9 or other employment records. CalChamber added the new Notice to Employee English and Spanish versions to the HRCalifornia website. These forms are available for free.

Employers also have obligations once the inspection is over. Within 72 hours of receiving the inspection results, employers must provide each “affected employee” a copy of the results and a written notice of the employer’s and employee’s obligations arising from the inspection.

However, Malas writes, many California employers remain unclear about what the law means for them, while some small business owners haven’t heard of it or aren’t sure they would be able to recognize a court order or a warrant. Some employers also suspect that the law may be driving more undocumented immigrants into informal or contract work, where employers can more easily ignore their immigration status.