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.
Protesters at a recent pro-DACA demonstration (AhXiong/Shutterstock.com)
Late on Tuesday, a federal judge in California issued an injunction blocking US President Donald Trump’s order winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought into the US as children, CNN reported on Wednesday:
Judge William Alsup also said the administration must resume receiving DACA renewal applications. But the ruling is limited — the administration does not need to process applications for those who have never before received DACA protections, he said. …
The ruling came in a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security brought by the University of California and others. In his 49-page ruling, Alsup said “plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious” and must be set aside under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. The judge said a nationwide injunction was “appropriate” because “our country has a strong interest in the uniform application of immigration law and policy.”
The DACA program, which is based on the principle of prosecutorial discretion, was enacted in 2012 and has benefited some 800,000 individuals under 31 who arrived in the country before the age of 16, have lived in the US continuously since 2007, and are in school or have graduated. In total, up to 1.1 million so-called “dreamers” were eligible for the program, though not all who were eligible applied—potentially out of fear of “outing” themselves to the federal government as undocumented.
Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to drastically reduce legal and illegal immigration and to hasten the deportation of undocumented immigrants, ordered the DACA program canceled last September, giving Congress until March to find a legislative solution or the administration would begin phasing out its protections. Talks over a deal have stalled over disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over whether to pair it with funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border. The Trump administration intends to fight Alsup’s injunction, but the court battle could drag on for years. The upshot, the Washington Post explains, is that DACA beneficiaries remain uncertain of their future status unless and until Congress acts.
Over 100 human resource leaders have expressed their support for undocumented workers and made a call to action in light of the Trump administration’s announcement that will phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants temporary work permits and protection from deportation to younger undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children. Recently, according to Erin Mulvaney at the National Law Journal, chief human resource officers from companies such as Target, HP, and 21st Century Fox signed and sent a letter to Congress late last month calling for a legislative solution to preserve DACA and expressing concern over the intensity of political rhetoric on immigration:
“We are concerned that the rhetoric around immigration issues often obscures the truth about how foreign-born workers of all skill levels benefit their companies, American workers, American communities, and the American economy,” according to the letter, organized by the HR Policy Association. “Further, while we believe the existing immigration laws need to be responsibly enforced, we are concerned that discouraging these workers’ participation in the U.S. workforce through stricter policies would reduce productivity, intensify the ongoing workforce crisis, and disadvantage American businesses and their U.S. employees operating in the global economy.”
Last month also saw the launch of the Coalition for the American Dream, a group of employers dedicated to lobbying for the rights of these workers, which includes major power players such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. The coalition is also urging Congress to take action to protect the DACA program’s participants, often referred to as “Dreamers”:
As part of his administration’s overhaul of US immigration policy, President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to enforce a mandate on employers throughout the country to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system to check that their employees are legally authorized to work in the country. Arizona has had mandatory E-Verify since 2008, however, and a new study from the Public Policy Institute suggests that this policy hasn’t had the intended effect in terms of increasing job opportunities for legal residents, CNN Money’s Octavio Blanco explains:
While the number of undocumented workers fell dramatically in the years following the mandate, the number of opportunities that were made available for legal residents didn’t materialize at nearly the same rate, said researchers Magnus Lofstrom and Sarah Bohn, who conducted the study for the San Francisco-based think tank.
Lofstrum and Bohn examined E-Verify’s impact on Arizona’s workforce between 2007 and 2009 and found that the state’s undocumented population declined by about 92,000 people, or about 17%, as workers left the state to look for jobs. Many of the workers who remained, however, were pushed into so-called “informal employment,” working as day laborers or independent contractors in fields like construction, lawn care and janitorial work. The self-employment rate for unauthorized, less-skilled men doubled from 8% to 16% between 2007 and 2009, the researchers found.
The state government also appears reluctant to go after employers, meaning that enforcement has often been spotty:
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In two memos issued on Tuesday, the US Department of Homeland Security laid out new, stricter guidelines for enforcement of immigration policy, as the Trump administration’s effort to tighten America’s borders continues. According to the Associated Press, the new guidelines greatly expand the number of undocumented immigrants who could be targeted for deportation:
Any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority, according to Homeland Security Department memos signed by Secretary John Kelly. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or minor offenses — or simply having crossed the border illegally. The Trump administration memos replace narrower guidance focusing on immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes, are considered threats to national security or are recent border crossers. …
The memos do not change U.S. immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement. One example involves broader use of a program that fast-tracks deportations. It will now be applied to immigrants who cannot prove they have been in the United States longer than two years. It’s unclear how many immigrants that could include.
The guidelines also call for hiring 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, expanding detention facilities for those awaiting deportation, and beginning construction on a wall along the US-Mexico border, but Congress will still have to provide funding for these projects to move forward. It is unclear how quickly the department would be able to hire so many new agents; Customs and Border Protection already has 2,000 vacancies, the AP notes, and most applicants for these jobs fail polygraph tests.