US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is conducting inspections at worksites at a rapidly accelerating pace. The agency announced last week that its Homeland Security Investigations division had already conducted more raids in the first seven months of the current fiscal year than in the entire previous year:
From Oct. 1, 2017, through May 4, HSI opened 3,510 worksite investigations; initiated 2,282 I-9 audits; and made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests, respectively. In comparison, for fiscal year 2017 – running October 2016 to September 2017 – HSI opened 1,716 worksite investigations; initiated 1,360 I-9 audits; and made 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests related to worksite enforcement.
“Our worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law, and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law,” said Acting Executive Associate Director for HSI, Derek N. Benner. “HSI’s worksite enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor and other illegal practices.”
ICE expects to have conducted over 5,500 inspections by the end of this fiscal year, Benner told the Wall Street Journal, and would ultimately like to open as many as 15,000 I-9 audits a year if funding permits. The immigration law enforcement agency had already been conducting more inspections during the last few years of the Obama administration, but this year’s recent dramatic rise reflects President Donald Trump’s policy priority of accelerating deportations and increasing the risk of detection for undocumented immigrants, the better to discourage more people from immigrating illegally.
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.
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Last week, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided 98 7-Eleven stores throughout the US, arresting 21 people, including undocumented workers and franchise owners who were caught employing them. The point of the raids was not so much the arrests themselves, but rather a show of force intended to scare employers away from employing undocumented immigrant workers by demonstrating that the federal government was serious about cracking down on them, New York Times reporter Natalie Kitroeff noted earlier this week:
[A]ccording to law enforcement officials and experts with differing views of the immigration debate, a primary goal of such raids is to dissuade those working illegally from showing up for their jobs — and to warn prospective migrants that even if they make it across the border, they may end up being captured at work. Targeting 7-Eleven, a mainstay in working-class communities from North Carolina to California, seems to have conveyed the intended message.
“It’s causing a lot of panic,” said Oscar Renteria, the owner of Renteria Vineyard Management, which employs about 180 farmworkers who are now pruning grapevines in the Napa Valley. When word of the raids spread, he received a frenzy of emails from his supervisors asking him what to do if immigration officers showed up at the fields. One sent a notice to farmhands warning them to stay away from 7-Eleven stores in the area.
Employers in Northern California, in particular, are expected to be the targets of ICE’s next round of raids, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday, in what has been described as retaliation against the wave of “sanctuary” laws passed by numerous localities and the state of California limiting the degree to which local authorities can cooperate with federal agents in immigration enforcement. Another law passed last fall bars employers in the state from voluntarily allowing ICE agents onsite to conduct immigration inspections or to access employee records without a warrant or court order.
A bill recently passed by both houses of the California state legislature and now awaiting the signature of Governor Jerry Brown would, with certain limited exceptions, prohibit California employers 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. Supporters of the bill describe it as a means of protecting California’s immigrant workers from abuse by federal authorities and of resisting President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which have resulted in a spike in ICE raids and allegations of rights violations. SHRM’s Lisa Nagele-Piazza has the details on the bill:
Among other things, A.B. 450 would require employers to:
- Obtain warrants and subpoenas from federal immigration agents before granting them access to nonpublic areas of the worksite or permitting them to inspect certain employee records.
- Notify workers and their labor unions about an ICE enforcement activity within 72 hours of receiving notice of the inspection.
- Provide each current affected employee and the employee’s authorized representative with the results of an inspection within 72 hours of receiving such information from ICE.
- Pay penalties of between $2,000 and $10,000 for violations.
Currently, employers may voluntarily comply with federal agents’ requests to access the worksite during an immigration-related investigation.
If Brown signs the bill, organizations in the state will have to train their employees not to voluntarily consent to ICE actions, among other compliance challenges.