The Department of Homeland Security division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week announced a change in focus in its immigration enforcement efforts. While the Bush Administration staged workplace raids in which illegal workers were arrested, the Obama Administration will stage immigration audits at workplaces instead, with the intent of fining and prosecuting offending employers. Some 652 businesses already have received notices they will be audited. This article in The New York Times explains the administration’s rationale:
Federal agents will concentrate on businesses employing large numbers of workers suspected of being illegal immigrants, the officials said, and will reserve tough criminal charges mostly for employers who serially hire illegal immigrants and engage in wage and labor violations. “These actions underscore our commitment to targeting employers that cultivate illegal work forces by knowingly hiring and exploiting illegal workers,” said Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.
How will this play out for larger employers? The Times article looks at the case of American Apparel, a T-shirt manufacturer in Los Angeles. The company has been informed that perhaps 1,200 of its workers are illegal. It is cooperating with officials on an immigration audit to find out the truth:
While it has been no secret that American Apparel’s largely Latino work force probably included many illegal immigrants, Mr. Schey said the company had been careful to meet legal hiring requirements. Many illegal immigrants use convincingly forged Social Security cards or other fake documents when seeking work.
This illustrates the fact that employers can do their very best to follow the rules and still unknowingly be employing illegal workers. Employer groups point to this as a major reason comprehensive immigration reform is needed.