By Will Racke
Immigration authorities under President Donald Trump haven’t just cracked down on illegal immigrants, they’ve also stepped up worksite enforcement against the businesses who hire them.
Employer audits and investigations into workplace immigration violations have surged in fiscal year 2018, leading to criminal and civil arrests that far exceed the number recorded in the previous year, according to statistics released Monday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
There were 2,282 employer audits — known as I-9 audits — opened between Oct. 1 and May 4, according to the ICE data. That was about a 60 percent increase from the 1,360 audits opened between October 2016 and September 2017. Total worksite investigations also spiked in the same period: ICE’s criminal investigators have opened 3,510 worksite investigations so far this fiscal year, compared to 1,716 for all of fiscal year 2017.
“Our worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law, and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law,” Derek N. Benner, the acting executive associate director for ICE’s criminal investigation division, said in a statement.
ICE’s “enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor and other illegal practices,” he added.
Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan wanted the agency to boost its worksite investigations by “four to five times” to eliminate a key incentive for migrants to cross the U.S. border illegally, he said at a panel discussion at The Heritage Foundation, conservative think tank, in October.
“Unless you remove the magnets [for illegal immigration], as long as they think they can come here and get U.S. citizenship and not get removed, they’re going to keep coming,” Homan said at the time. “As long as they can come here and get a job, they’re going to try and come. So we are stepping up worksite enforcement.”
Since then, ICE has carried out a number of high-profile employer audits and workplace raids across the country. Immigration officials conducted surprise I-9 audits at nearly 100 7-Eleven stores in 17 states in January, leading to the arrest of more than 20 people. ICE agents raided a Tennessee slaughterhouse in April in what was thought to be the biggest federal worksite enforcement action in the state’s history.
Making worksite enforcement a priority has led to a spike in criminal arrests for immigration-related labor violations, according to ICE figures. There were 594 employers arrested on criminal immigration charges from Oct. 1 to May 4, more than four times the 139 arrests during the previous fiscal year.
ICE is planning another wave audits for this summer that will push the total “well over” 5,000 by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, Benner told The Associated Press. By comparison, ICE audits peaked at 3,127 in 2013, according to the AP.
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