Monday, July 12, 2010

Feds shift focus on illegal immigration from raids to workplace audits, leading to more firings

The Obama administration prefers workplace audits to find undocumented workers instead of the Bush-era raids of factories and farms, and is catching more illegal immigrants — but that doesn't mean they are deported. "Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies," Julia Preston of The New York Times reports. "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."

"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," Preston writes. Mark K. Reed, president of Border Management Strategies, a Tucson consulting firm that advises companies across the country on immigration law, explained, "Instead of hundreds of agents going after one company, now one agent can go after hundreds of companies. And there is no drama, no trauma, no families being torn apart, no handcuffs."

While Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, characterized the policy as "a far more effective enforcement tool" than the Bush era raids, Republican leaders have criticisms. "Even if discovered, illegal aliens are allowed to walk free and seek employment elsewhere," Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, told Preston. "This lax approach is particularly troubling, at a time when so many American citizens are struggling to find jobs."

Some employers say the crackdown has left them short of workers in low-wage jobs like farm work that Americans continue to shun despite the recession, Preston writes. Immigrant advocates say they are frustrated by the increase in enforcement. "It would be easier to fight if it was a big raid," Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, a group in Seattle, told Preston "But this is happening everywhere and often." (Read more)

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