Silent Raids

While it appears this topic has gone on under the radar, so to speak, it is official–the Obama administration has intensified a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants across the country. Officials have notified another 1,000 companies in all 50 states that they plan to inspect their hiring records. Because businesses are well aware that this could lead to the loss of a great deal of employees, reducing productivity and increasing legal expenses, those businesses that rely on low-skilled labor are working to stave off Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audits. Since these so-called ¨silent raids¨ began last October, there have been a total of 2,338 companies that have been audited, surpassing the 2,196 figure of the previous year.

The audits, which affect businesses such as the garment industry, the produce growers and fast food chains, result in the firing of every illegal immigrant found on a company’s payroll. The audits can also lead to both civil and criminal penalties for employers. These could very well range from fines and being barred from competing for government contracts, to criminal charges of knowingly employing illegal workers, evading taxes and engaging in identity theft. As part of the audit procedure, the companies under investigation must hand over their I-9 employment-eligibility forms that contain Social Security numbers and dates of birth along with statements written by employers regarding their citizenship status.

Even though the ¨sensitive nature¨ of the investigation prohibited ICE from releasing the names of the companies currently being investigated, they were, however, allowed to disclose that these operate in areas defined as “critical infrastructure and key resources,” including food production, information technology, financial services, and construction. According to immigration judges who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, affected businesses could include cargo handlers, caterers of food for the military and builders of dams and highways. In contrast to what has usually been the expected response to acts of this nature–or lack there of– the senior vice-president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has done away with the customary code of silence and said the following: “We are concerned the audits are being based more on a fishing expedition than on firm facts. Because these audits can cost millions of dollars in lost productivity and attorneys’ fees, the government should move carefully and only when based on solid foundation that there is in fact illegal behavior.” Since there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country, it is only normal for them to find a job by any means necessary, even if that may unfortunately require they do so through unlawful means. Immigrants in this position typically use a made-up Social Security number or the identity of a U.S. citizen or resident.

Admittedly, many employers say they do not have the ability to police their work forces. They also say they fear discrimination law suits for demanding additional documents from workers they suspect are in the U.S. illegally. In the past, audits have generally been concentrated in certain regions, and once a region was targeted, companies in the same business area were unlikely to face inspection elsewhere. But “businesses can no longer assume an audit is isolated in one location. It’s spreading nationwide,” said Julie Myers, ICE chief during the Bush administration, who advises companies on immigration. Due to this, companies are trying to do “proactive I-9 inspections” to ensure their workforce is legal. Especially since larger employers have been increasingly targeted after an ICE audit office was established outside of Washington earlier this year. Another major change has been that of the overall directive. Enforcement activity during the Bush administration focused on high-profile raids in which thousands of illegal immigrants were arrested and placed in deportation proceedings, whereas relatively few companies and executives were prosecuted. In contrast, the Obama administration has made employers the center of his enforcement strategy because jobs are the magnet for illegal immigration.

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