Illegal Immigration Raids Increasing

The Trump administration is taking its tough talk on immigration directly to the workplace.
By: | January 16, 2018 • 3 min read

The Trump administration is taking its campaign against illegal immigration to the workplace, according to the New York Times, which reports that the recent “raids by federal agents on dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores last week were the administration’s first big show of force” to employers that hire undocumented workers.

“We are taking work-site enforcement very hard,” said Thomas D. Homan, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a speech in October. “Not only are we going to prosecute the employers who knowingly hire the illegal aliens, we are going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers.”

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The story notes that the last flurry of public, on-site investigations happened under President George W. Bush, who sent immigration agents to several meatpacking plants and other workplaces. Those raids led to hundreds of arrests of workers and prompted many other employees to stop reporting to work. Those raids enraged advocates for immigrants and drew complaints from business owners.

According to the Times piece, the Obama administration “changed tack” and pursued employers mainly by inspecting their paperwork. Such audits doubled from fiscal years 2009 to 2013, reaching 3,127, then declined sharply.

Under the Obama administration’s watch, “a handful of employers” faced prominent criminal cases in recent years, but most companies employing workers illegally avoid serious charges, because it is often impossible to prove that they knew someone had handed in fake documents, the Times piece notes.

(Current immigration law requires employers only to ensure that documents appear to be valid, and federal law prohibits them from requiring specific types of identification from workers.)

Cracking down on employers who violate the law is crucial, said Doris Meissner, who was head of the agency that preceded ICE, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, from 1993 to 2000. During that time, the Times says, Ms. Meissner tried to focus on holding employers accountable.

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But while she says it isn’t right to employ people who are here illegally, without a visa system allowing unmet labor needs to be addressed with foreigners, ICE shouldn’t expect patchwork enforcement stings to persuade farms, hotels or meatpackers to stop employing unauthorized workers.

“When your laws don’t align with the market, then the market is always going to win,” Ms. Meissner said.

Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien has been with HRE for more than a decade and holds a degree in economics from Boston College. He can be reached at [email protected]