The Washington Post: “Immigration crackdown shifts to employers as audits surge”

by Joseph McKeown

Under the Trump administration, immigration officials have substantially increased audits on companies to verify that employees are authorized to legally work in the US. The increased efforts are focusing on both building criminal cases against noncompliant employers as well as removing employees working in the US without legal documentation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that there were 2,282 employer audits opened between October 1, 2017 and May 4, 2018,  a sixty percent jump from the 1,360 audits opened between October 2016 and September 2017. Derek Benner, head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, tells the Associated Press that planned audits for this summer would push the total “well over” 5,000 by September 30. Comparably, in 2013 there were 3,127 ICE audits.

ICE has also proposed to create one uniform location to perform employer audits, which may potentially allow the agency to conduct as many as 15,000 audits per year. The proposal would create an Employer Compliance Inspection Center to perform employer audits at this one location instead of regional offices. Electronically scanning documents would assist in flagging suspicious activity, and regional offices would then conduct additional investigations. Benner says that if the agency were to have 250 auditors in one location along with a team of lawyers and the right technology, they would be able to audit between 10,000 and 15,000 companies annually. Benner says that this would create a “reasonable expectation” that employers would be audited, and he tells the Washington Post: “This is kind of our vision of creating this culture of compliance. I think it’s a game changer.” 

Currently, under a 1986 federal law, companies are required to verify that their employees are legally authorized to work in the US upon review of their documents. If the government finds that employers have hired someone that does not have work authorization, they may be subject to administrative fines and criminal prosecution in some cases. The current increase in audits will likely please supporters of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown who believe that hiring undocumented workers creates unfair advantages for companies and encourages people to enter the US without documentation; however, these new audits may alienate industries that rely on immigrant labor.

Immigration advocates have strongly objected to the increased raids. After an ICE raid in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, led to thirty-two arrests, Erica Johnson, the immigrant rights program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Iowa, told the Des Moines Register: "This raid is devastating for the people who were detained, their families and the entire community." A raid by ICE at a Tennessee meat-processing plant in April led to nearly 100 individuals arrested and was the largest workplace raid since Trump took office. In the aftermath of the raid, 500 to 600 children—about 5 percent of the district's 10,000 students—were absent from school in Hamblen County, according to the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director at TIRRC, said in a statement after the raid: "Our communities have lived under intense fear since the Trump administration began, and this raid–-coupled with local law enforcement involvement-–will send shockwaves across the country."