The Biden administration moved Tuesday to end mass worksite raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that have previously led to the arrests of hundreds of immigrants at a time and thrust workers into deportation proceedings, according to a memo released by the Department of Homeland Security.
The policy change in a memo written by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas remakes how ICE had been operating during the last several years. The so-called worksite operations resulted in some of the largest single-day arrests of undocumented immigrants during former president Donald Trump’s presidency. During the previous administration, which emphasized investigations and operations at worksites that employ undocumented workers, overall immigration arrests of undocumented immigrants at workplaces skyrocketed.
In one incident in August 2019, ICE arrested more than 650 suspected undocumented workers after Homeland Security Investigations agents swept through seven agricultural plants in the Mississippi as part of a criminal investigation. Deportation officers and HSI agents arrested the workers as they served criminal search warrants at the food plants. At the time, ICE officials emphasized that employers who hire undocumented workers gain an “unfair advantage” over others and take jobs from US citizens and legal residents.
In the memo, which was first reported by Bloomberg Law, Mayorkas also directed DHS leaders to develop strategies to facilitate vulnerable workers participating in investigations that target “unscrupulous” employers. In a written statement, the agency said that the Trump administration’s emphasis on “resource-intensive operations resulted in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers and were used as a tool by exploitative employers to suppress and retaliate against workers’ assertion of labor laws.”
Prosecutions of employers can be notoriously challenging.
An analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that during April 2018 and March 2019, only 11 employers — individuals, not companies — were prosecuted for hiring immigrants without proper documentation.
Since criminal penalties for employers were first enacted by Congress in 1986, few employers have ever been prosecuted, according to the TRAC analysis. Fewer than 20 prosecutions have taken place against employers in a single year, except for brief periods under then-president George W. Bush and in the first year of the Obama administration, the data show.
“This move will also ensure those immigrants working in schools, factories, meatpacking plants, hospitals, construction sites, and other essential industries can do their jobs safely and speak out against unjust treatment without fearing employer intimidation, arrest, or deportation,” Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement.