ICE Records Reveal Steep Drop In Worksite Enforcement Since 2013

by Marguerite Telford –

Employers face little risk from hiring illegal workers

WASHINGTON, DC (June 16, 2015) — A new Center for Immigration Studies report reveals that the Obama administration has nearly abandoned enforcement of immigration laws at the worksite, at a time when the share of Americans in the labor force has declined dramatically.

In the first five months of this fiscal year ICE conducted just 181 workplace audits and brought charges against just 27 employers. This is a small fraction of the worksite activity ICE completed in 2013, when more than 3,000 companies were audited and 179 employers were arrested. The number of employer fines collected by ICE also has dropped by more than half since 2013. The administration’s near discontinuation of worksite enforcement means that employers now face very little risk from hiring illegal workers and have little incentive to abide by the law.

Jessica Vaughan, the Center’s Director of Policy Studies and author of the report said, “There can be a legitimate debate over whether audits or raids are the better approach to address the problem of illegal hiring. The administration’s near total emphasis on audits amounted to half a loaf – and now it turns out that they have abandoned even that half-hearted strategy in favor of doing nothing at all to deter unscrupulous employers. To do this at a time when there are 92 million Americans not working is a huge disservice to the unemployed Americans and to the employers who play by the rules.”

View the entire report with graphs and chart at:

Fewer audits means that there have been fewer sanctions against employers. From 2010 to 2014, the number of employers arrested for worksite immigration violations hovered near 200 per year. This year, ICE is on track to arrest fewer than 70 employers by the end of the fiscal year.

The amount of fines collected from offending employers also has dropped sharply. In each year from 2011 to 2014, ICE collected more than $8 million in fines from offending employers. This year, ICE is on track to collect less than $5 million in fines.

Vaughan cites a recent case to illustrate how toothless enforcement fails to deter illegal hiring. In 2012 ICE audited Broetje Orchards in Washington State and found 1,700 illegal workers. Despite the audit and the requirement that they reform their hiring process and maintain a legal workforce, when ICE returned for the follow up audit two years later, they found 950 illegal workers still on the payroll. Despite finding a continuing practice of illegal hiring, ICE chose to negotiate a generous settlement that works out to fines that are likely less than what the company saved on wages, benefits, and taxes by hiring the illegal workers.

Vaughan points out that “In the past, an employer’s continued flagrant violation of the law might have triggered more serious consequences for the employer, including arrest. But this time ICE lawyers chose to help the employer whitewash its wrongdoing. And, unlike past cases involving such large-scale illegal hiring, it appears that not a single illegal worker was sent home after the audit.”

“Robust worksite enforcement programs produce numerous public benefits, including deterring illegal hiring, exposing exploitative workplace conditions and tax violations, punishing unscrupulous employers, uncovering document fraud rings and other criminal activity, and, most importantly, restoring job opportunities for legal workers, “ wrote Vaughan. “When considering the allocation of funding for ICE programs, Congress should take care that this critical form of enforcement, which addresses both land crossers and overstayers, is restored to a higher priority.”

Contact: Marguerite Telford

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