The Obama administration has taken a different tact than previous administrations in dealing with illegal immigration. Rather than hundreds of agents pouring into one factory or farm, 1 agent pours over records of hundreds of different factories and farms looking for evidence of illegal immigrants. According to the New York Times:
While the sweeps of the past commonly led to the deportation of such workers, the “silent raids,” as employers call the audits, usually result in the workers being fired, but in many cases they are not deported.
Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures. Thousands of those workers have been fired, immigrant groups estimate.
Employers say the audits reach more companies than the work-site roundups of the administration of President George W. Bush. The audits force businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on the payroll— not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid — and make it much harder to hire other unauthorized workers as replacements. Auditing is “a far more effective enforcement tool,” said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, which includes many worried fruit growers.
Immigration inspectors who pored over the records of one of those growers, Gebbers Farms, found evidence that more than 500 of its workers, mostly immigrants from Mexico, were in the country illegally. In December, Gebbers Farms, based in this Washington orchard town, fired the workers.
“Instead of hundreds of agents going after one company, now one agent can go after hundreds of companies,” said Mark K. Reed, president of Border Management Strategies, a consulting firm in Tucson that advises companies across the country on immigration law. “And there is no drama, no trauma, no families being torn apart, no handcuffs.”
President Obama, in a speech last week, explained a two-step immigration policy. He promised tough enforcement against illegal immigration, in workplaces and at the border, saying it would prepare the way for a legislative overhaul to give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. White House officials say the enforcement is under way, but they acknowledge the overhaul is unlikely to happen this year.
Critics have complained that the illegal immigrants are still in the country and can just go work elsewhere. Business people, factory and farm owners have complained that they simply cannot get enough workers to conduct business. 69% of farm workers are immigrants.
Others have praised the program saying that families aren’t torn apart and workers aren’t led away in handcuffs.
It seems that if the noose is being applied to the employers in this manner, there is a desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform in order to be able to have workers legally in the country, whether this is done as part of a guest worker program or part of a path to legal permanent residency.
ICE seems to have the following goals:
John Morton, the head of the immigration agency, known as ICE, said the goal of the audits is to create “a culture of compliance” among employers, so that verifying new hires would be as routine as paying taxes. ICE leaves it up to employers to fire workers whose documents cannot be validated. But an employer who fails to do so risks prosecution.
ICE is looking primarily for “egregious employers” who commit both labor abuses and immigration violations, Mr. Morton said, and the agency is ramping up penalties against them.
Regardless, Americans will probably never agree on how ICE is to handle undocumented workers.
If many of these workers somehow become documented and are no longer illegal immigrants, some of those who most harshly criticize, the ‘illegal is illegal’ bunch, will have to regroup and find a new issue to attack.