WSJ: ICE Targets 1,000 Companies for I-9 Audits

Notwithstanding recent rumors and hints and portents of a possible thaw in the frozen deadlock that comprehensive immigration reform has become, the real action in immigration policy is still on the enforcement side, and increasingly on the “wholesale” side – targeting employers – rather than the “retail,” or benefits side, laboriously building cases against immigration violators, one by one. As the Wall Street Journal reports, a special employment compliance unit within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is in the midst of a major crackdown on companies that employ illegal immigrant workers, and up to 1,000 companies are believed to be undergoing ICE audits to determine whether they obeyed federal employment eligibility verification requirements. (See Feds Target Illegal Hires, by Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, 17.Feb.2011.)

According to the Wall Street Journal, ICE has not gone public with the names of the firms under investigation – at least not yet – but it notes that several fast-food chains are said to be involved, and that “historically, agriculture and the food-processing and hospitality industries are the most vulnerable to enforcement actions, because they rely heavily on low-skilled workers.” The WSJ says that ICE is forcing the companies to provide I-9 forms and other documentation to prove that each member of its workforce was hired legally. These so-called “silent raids” have become the hallmark of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement strategy, a quieter approach that is more low-key than the dramatic workplace roundups favored during the Bush years. The difference in emphasis makes political sense: Bush’s supporters wanted visible and vigorous enforcement against individual immigration violators, while Obama’s supporters – including many in the Latino community – are more inclined to favor immigration enforcement that brings employers to book for immigration violations. Ironically, President Obama’s enforcement strategy is apparently more effective than his predecessors, as the WSJ notes:

“Thousands of workers have been caught in the net by the Obama administration.  Among other companies hit by the program are Abercrombie & Fitch Co., hip-clothing maker American Apparel Inc., and Gebbers Farms, a big apple grower in Washington state. Experts say the audits are more effective than the worksite sweeps of the Bush era because they make employers let go of every suspected illegal immigrant on the books, not only those present when a raid occurs. Companies are highly unlikely to hire replacements who are illegal immigrants.”

To some extent, there is a bipartisan push behind this latest immigration crackdown, the WSJ argues, with both parties eager to prove its enforcement bona fides to an electorate convinced that foreign-born workers are snapping up all the jobs. Not so fast, says an agribusinessman cited in the article, who told the WSJ that his delicate crop – vidalia onions – must be picked by hand to avoid being damaged: “There’s nothing out there to replace hand labor, and we don’t have American people applying for these jobs.”

Be that as it may, according to the WSJ, some GOP lawmakers have staked considerable political capital on the issue, and are seeking to greatly expand the E-Verify program, which allows participating employers “to check information provided by new hired on an I-9 form against Social Security Administration, State Department, and Homeland Security databases.” Except for a few states that require E-Verify, and for companies doing business with the federal government, the program remains voluntary, although some key House Republicans hope to change that, the WSJ reports. Readers who wish to stay informed if any plans to expand E-Verify should follow articles on MurthyDotCom or subscribe to the MurthyBulletin.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.