Immigration and Customs Enforcement has ramped up its investigations of workplaces suspected of employing undocumented immigrants, dramatically increasing the number of workers arrested and employers audited in 2018, according to an ICE news release Tuesday.
In fiscal year 2018, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations agents carried out nearly 7,000 checks of workplaces suspected of employing undocumented workers, compared with about 1,700 in fiscal year 2017, the agency said.
As part of these investigations, the agency conducted nearly 6,000 audits of employers this year ― up from about 1,300 last year.
It also made more than 2,300 worksite-related arrests, compared with just over 300 such arrests last year.
ICE “stands by its commitment to focus on criminal investigations into employers,” the agency told HuffPost by email.
However data the agency sent HuffPost show that the majority of those arrested were not employers but employees: of 2,304 total arrests this fiscal year, 1,525 were “administrative” arrests ― which generally are arrests of workers for being unauthorized immigrants, not those deemed to have committed any other offense. For the remaining 779 “criminal” arrests, 666 were of “non-managers,” the agency said.
The agency noted by email that, “in contrast to prior recent years, [ICE] will arrest and process for removal workers identified during audits and investigations.”
“It’s yet another tactic that scares immigrant communities,” Randy Capps, the Migration Policy Institute’s director of research for U.S. programs, told HuffPost, noting that worksite investigations have a “huge impact on local communities.” “It’s just one more thing to be afraid of.”
By “substantially increasing” both its audits of employers and arrests of workers, the Trump administration appeared to be using workplace enforcement as yet another “tool in their toolbox” for their broader crackdown on undocumented immigrants nationwide, Capps added.
The Trump administration has implemented hard-line immigration policies, including making all undocumented immigrants ― not just those with criminal histories ― targets for deportation. Earlier this year, the administration drew outrage and nationwide protests for its “zero tolerance” policy, which led to the separation of thousands of migrant children from parents at the border.
In June 2017, then-ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan said undocumented immigrants should “look over [their] shoulder” and “be worried.” Late that year, ICE committed to “step up” its worksite enforcement efforts, the agency said.
Earlier this year, ICE raided nearly 100 7-Eleven stores across the country in a dramatic show of force. The agency said the raids were meant to serve as a “strong message” to other businesses to follow the law by not hiring undocumented workers.
Workplace raids tend to spread fear in undocumented communities by sending a message that undocumented workers are at risk of being targeted by agents at any time and being deported.