Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are arresting more undocumented immigrants at their workplaces and conducting more investigations of businesses to see if they employ undocumented immigrants, according to numbers disclosed by the agency on Tuesday.
From October 2017 until July 20, ICE made 984 workplace arrests, more than five times the number of arrests made during the last fiscal year, from October 2016 to September 2017. During that period, ICE arrested 172 people under what the agency calls “worksite enforcement.”
The agency is also targeting more businesses suspected of employing undocumented immigrants, opening 6,093 investigations so far this fiscal year, compared with 1,716 conducted last fiscal year.
According to the new statistics, ICE has also initiated nearly four times as many I-9 audits, in which agency officials mandate employers to prove that their employees have documentation to work in the U.S.
The increase is consistent with the Trump administration’s larger crackdown on undocumented immigrants and zero tolerance enforcement of immigration laws.
One of the most high-profile examples came in its highly criticized decision earlier this year to separate undocumented immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a press release announcing the new numbers on increased workplace targeting, the agency claimed that the practices would help ensure greater public safety, echoing the Trump administration’s larger rhetoric and rationale for its immigration crackdown.
“Worksite enforcement protects jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminates unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security,” said Derek N. Benner, ICE’s acting executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations.
However, immigration researchers and advocates have argued that such crackdowns are mostly a show of force and a scare tactic for undocumented immigrants.
The increased focus on workplaces is “in line with the Trump administration’s hardline public relations campaign seeking to keep unauthorized immigrants on edge. The message to unauthorized immigrants is clear: the workplace is not a safe space,” researchers for the Migration Policy Institute wrote in January.
That month, ICE officials raided a spate of 7-Eleven convenience stores around the country, a move to signify stricter enforcement of immigration laws and the targeting of more undocumented immigrants at workplaces, which then-ICE head Thomas Homan announced last October.