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Workplace Arrests Have Soared As The Trump Administration Steps Up Immigration Enforcement

New statistics released Tuesday show the extent of the Trump administration's efforts to enforce immigration laws at US workplaces.

Posted on July 24, 2018, at 4:38 p.m. ET

Mike Blake / Reuters

A recent protest in San Diego against Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Enforcement of immigration laws at worksites has soared under the Trump administration, according to new statistics released Tuesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The statistics show huge increases compared to last year in both the number of people arrested at their jobs and the number of requests authorities have made to companies to prove that their workers are in the country legally.

ICE has made more than five times as many immigration arrests at workplaces this fiscal year, which began in October, than it did last year, the new statistics show — from 172 last year to 984 so far this year.

ICE also has conducted more than 5,000 so-called I-9 audits at companies across the country, in which agents demand that employers produce the forms that show workers have authorization to hold jobs in the United States. Last year, ICE initiated 1,360 such audits.

ICE has also made 675 worksite-related criminal arrests, though it’s unclear what the underlying criminal charges were.

“This is not a victimless crime,” said Derek N. Benner, acting executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations, which undertakes the workplace audits. “Unauthorized workers often use stolen identities of legal U.S. workers, which can significantly impact the identity theft victim’s credit, medical records and other aspects of their everyday life.”

Experts dispute how effective such enforcement efforts are in curbing undocumented immigration. Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor and immigration expert at California’s Santa Clara University School of Law, said that the administration can't “enforce” its way out of unauthorized migration.

“In the end, the use of significant federal resources is unlikely to have long-term or systemic effects on either unauthorized migration or employment,” he said. “Until our immigration system begins to match visa availability with labor and family needs, as well as historical and geographic realities, both concerns will remain.”

Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, noted that the Obama administration also pushed audits and, at first, made many worksite arrests. That changed in the administration’s later years when officials shifted to a more targeted approach. But she noted the new enforcement figures are consistent with the call by former ICE director Thomas Homan for a “400%” increase in workplace operations.

“At this pace, they may meet that goal,” she said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.