The Department of Homeland Security will no longer conduct raids on workplaces that employ illegal aliens, the latest effort from the White House to curtail the agency's mission to enforce immigration law.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests at worksites could discourage illegal immigrants from reporting other unlawful employment practices in violation of a Biden administration directive. DHS will now privilege other investigations that "most effectively protect the American labor market," according to the memo released Tuesday.
"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," the memo says. "These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations."
Worksite raids increased by nearly 400 percent in 2018 under former president Donald Trump, leading to the arrest and deportation of thousands of illegal aliens. During former president Barack Obama’s last year in office, ICE made just 106 worksite arrests.
Proponents of the practice say worksite raids encourage employers to fill open jobs with law-abiding U.S. citizens and visa holders and regularly lead to broader investigations for other serious crimes. In 2018, the owner of a Tennessee slaughterhouse pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud following a worksite raid. He was later sentenced to 18 months in prison.
The largest single worksite raid in DHS history took place in 2019 at a Mississippi food processing plant and resulted in the arrest of 680 illegal aliens. Four Americans were also charged with violating immigration law.
Former immigration officials say the Biden administration will only encourage companies to abuse workers. Corporations will be able to hire illegal immigrants at substandard wages with impunity, according to former ICE chief of staff Jon Feere.
"Lawbreaking employers have benefited from the Biden administration’s lack of worksite enforcement this year, and now Mayorkas is outright abolishing this important enforcement tool," Feere said. "Media in Central America reported on ICE worksite operations under the Trump administration and that undoubtedly had the effect of discouraging illegal immigration."
The Mayorkas memo effectively restores Obama-era policies, which critics say hamstrung the agency from policing employers. By delegating the Department of Labor to be the chief investigator when an illegal alien files a worksite complaint, as Mayorkas’s memo orders, DHS is sidelined.
Under Obama, the Labor Department refused to share information about investigations with DHS, nor would it allow joint investigations with DHS. That practice ended most employer investigations by DHS, meaning lawbreaking employers often went unpunished. In his memo, Mayorkas calls for a review of whether E-Verify—a federal tool that allows businesses to check if a prospective employee is an illegal alien—is "not manipulated to suppress unauthorized workers from, or to punish unauthorized workers for, reporting unlawful labor practices such as substandard wages, unsafe working conditions, and other forms of worker exploitation."