Immigration Agency Stepping Up Employer Sanctions

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New acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan is going after employers who hire illegal immigrants. Wikimedia Commons.

Just a little warning for the employers of Georgetown and beyond. In a little reported keynote speech at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 17, Thomas Homan, the new acting director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, announced that he would be placing a new emphasis on sanctioning employers who knowingly employ workers without legal work permits. Starting now.

“I actually just recently looked at what percentage of time is spent by Homeland Security Investigations [on] worksite enforcement [and] I just gave the instruction I want to increase that by four to five times,” Homan said. “We’re taking worksite enforcement very hard this year. You are going to see us significantly increase the number of inspections and worksite operations this next fiscal year. We’re doing it differently than we’ve done it. Now we’re going to prosecute the employers who knowingly harbor the illegal aliens and we are going to detain and remove the [aliens].”

Employer fines can be heavy: up to $250,000 with a possible maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, and three years of supervised release following any imprisonment.

Employing immigrants without work permits was not really an issue in the United States until the 1986 amnesty bill, signed by Ronald Reagan, that eventually granted legal permanent-residency permits (green cards) to some three million immigrants living and working in the country illegally. But the legislation also made it illegal for the first time for employers to hire any future workers without legal status and work permits (including millions on “legal” visitor and temporary visas that state the holder is not allowed to work in the United States).

For years, the measure was not enforced. There was basically no agency to do it, as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (created in the 1880s, along with the first national immigration laws) focused on naturalization, not immigration enforcement. That changed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. INS was broken into two agencies: the Citizenship and Immigration Services and ICE, the first agency ever to focus on internal immigration enforcement in the United States.

In 2007 and 2008, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff made employer sanctions a central immigration enforcement focus. Via social security card checks, several employers in Iowa and Idaho were found to be hiring hundreds of illegal immigrants, some of them minors. ICE conducted early-morning mass arrest and detention actions. The actions were legal. But the visuals of ICE officers escorting hundreds of mainly Central American men, women and even children out of the workplace with their hands tied behind their backs and onto vehicles for deportation was not good.

Protests were held throughout the country about targetng hard-working immigrants, innocent of any crime other than being in the country illegally, a misdemeanor. (Not mentioned was that most had knowingly purchased, obtained and used false documents like fake social security and green cards, a deportable felony.)

But the enforcement actions — labeled “raids” by the press — were halted. Fewer than 100 were carried out by President Barack Obama’s administration between 2008 and 2016. Instead, employers were encouraged to use the digital e-verify system when hiring new employees. E-verify can check instantly, like a credit card, if applicants are legally present in the country and have work permits. But the system is voluntary (except in a few states like Arizona that made its use part of their state business-licensing requirements).

President Donald Trump’s mandate to harden immigration enforcement apparently is going to change that as well. There is a good possibility that making e-verify a national requirement will be a big part of the congressional deal for legalizing some 800,000 so-called DREAMers, who had been granted a temporary work permit under Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

It is expected to take at least until March for the DACA issue to be resolved. Homan noted that would-be immigrants will continue to break the nation’s immigration laws if companies offer them jobs, saying: “Unless you remove the magnets, as long as they think they can come here and have a U.S.-citizen kid and not get removed, they are going to keep coming. As long as they can get a job, they are going to try and come. So we are stepping up worksite enforcement.”

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