Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made nearly 10 times as many immigration arrests at workplaces in the last year than they did in the previous fiscal year, a massive increase that was highlighted by the agency in data released Tuesday.
The statistics indicate that a shift undertaken by Trump administration to crack down on workplace violations has resulted in a massive jump in arrests of people at their jobs and in the number of requests authorities have made to companies to prove that their workers are in the country legally.
At the end of 2017, Thomas Homan, then the agency’s acting director, had called for a “400% increase” in such workplace operations.
The new statistics show that ICE made 1,525 arrests at workplaces in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up from just 172 the previous year. The agency also conducted nearly 6,000 so-called I-9 audits at companies across the country, in which agents demand that employers produce the forms that show workers have the authorization to hold jobs in the United States. Last year, ICE initiated 1,360 such audits.
“The 2018 worksite enforcement numbers show that while the Trump administration failed to meet Thomas Homan's ambitious goal of quintupling worksite actions, they got a good deal of the way there,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Despite the big push, she said, they didn’t come close to arresting as many immigrants as the Bush administration did in 2008, 2007, or 2006, when more than 3,000 immigrants were arrested in such operations each year.
“It seems as if the administration's worksite enforcement strategy is doing far more to make immigrants anxious — sending the clear message that the workplace is not safe from immigration enforcement — than it is to actually boost interior removals,” she said.
Derek Benner, head of Homeland Security Investigations, the ICE division that leads the operations, said in a statement that cutting into “illegal employment” helps build an additional layer of border security and reduces “the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates, from the human smuggling networks that facilitate illegal border crossings to the associated collateral crimes, like identity theft, document and benefit fraud and worker exploitation.”
ICE led several high-profile workplace raids this past year, including in Ohio, Texas, and Nebraska, where BuzzFeed News chronicled the aftermath of the operation, finding that many immigrant workers had fled the town and the ones who remained said the area would be forever changed.