Biden administration orders halt to ICE raids at worksites
The Biden administration Tuesday ordered a halt to large-scale immigration arrests at job sites, and said it is planning a new enforcement strategy to more effectively target employers who pay substandard wages and engage in exploitative labor practices.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas's memo ordered a review of enforcement policies and gave immigration officials 60 days to devise proposals to better protect workers who report on their bosses from facing deportation.
Mass arrest operations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly referred to as ICE raids, have been used primarily against industries that employ large numbers of immigrants, such as meatpacking. Immigrant advocates and many Democrats who oppose the raids say they punish vulnerable workers, sow fear in immigrant communities and rarely result in consequences for employers.
"The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country's unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers," Mayorkas's memo states.
"These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations," it says.
ICE worksite enforcement practices have flip-flopped between Republican and Democratic administrations over the years. In 2019, the Trump administration swept up 680 workers at seven poultry and other food processing plants in Mississippi, the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history. Four managers were later indicted.
According to the Department of Homeland Security memo, the department's shift in focus to employers will reduce the demand for illegal labor by delivering stiffer consequences for companies and managers while making it easier for workers to step forward and denounce exploitation.
GOP lawmakers have pushed for a mandatory, nationwide implementation of the E-Verify system that requires employers to check the legal status of any potential new hires against federal databases. But hundreds of the workers arrested in Mississippi in 2019 managed to circumvent the E-Verify check by using another person's legal documents.
The memo directs DHS officials to recommend ways to strengthen E-Verify "to ensure it is not misused as a tool of exploitative labor practices" by employers wielding it to intimidate workers.
The administration's new approach will better protect American businesses, according to the DHS. "By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market," the memo states. "They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law."
Mayorkas on Sept. 30 issued new guidelines to ICE directing the agency's officers to prioritize recent border-crossers and immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety. According to his memo, worksite raids are inconsistent with the new enforcement priorities and the type of "individualized assessment" that ICE officers are required to make before deciding whether an immigrant should be targeted for arrest and deportation.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a key ally of the president and a prominent voice on Hispanic affairs and labor relations, praised the enforcement change.
"While many workers across the country stayed home per public health protocols, undocumented workers put their lives and the well-being of their loved ones at risk to keep our country and economy afloat," he said in a statement.
"These actions by the administration are an important step in safeguarding the safety and well-being of undocumented workers," said Menendez, who is among the Democratic lawmakers pushing for a path to citizenship for essential workers who lack legal status.
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