In another example of the shift in immigration priorities, a new Center for Immigration Studies report reveals the Obama administration has “largely abandoned” worksite enforcement.
According to internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data obtained by CIS policy director Jessica Vaughan and contained in her new report, during the first five months of this fiscal year, ICE conducted 181 workplace audits and charged 27 employers with violations.
The figures represent a striking decline in enforcement from just a few years earlier, when in 2013 ICE conducted audits of more than 3,000 companies and arrested 179 employers, according to Vaughan.
“The administration’s near discontinuation of worksite enforcement means that employers now face very little risk in hiring illegal workers and have little incentive to abide by the law,” the report reads.
The report recalls how in 2009 the agency moved from a worksite enforcement effort that resulted in the arrests of illegal workers to a more audit-based enforcement approach focused on the employers.
“ICE records obtained by the Center indicate that after an initial flurry of activity from 2010 to 2013, even these half-a-loaf worksite auditing efforts have been curtailed significantly, with a very sharp drop in recent years. The number of audits conducted has fallen from a high of 3,127 in 2013 to 1,320 in 2014,” Vaughan’s report reads.
According to Vaughan, ICE is on pace to conduct less than 500 audits and while 2010-2014 saw about 200 employers arrested annually, 2015 is slated to see ICE arrest less than 70 employers.
Additionally the employer fines ICE collects have seen a dramatic decline. Vaughan reveals that from 2011-2014, the agency collected more than $8 million annually, while this year ICE is projected to collect just $5 million. Vaughan writes in her report:
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. 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.
She further highlighted recent worksite enforcement actions, noting that in 2014, then U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, now the attorney general, prosecuted one such case which resulted in 10-20 year prison terms for the five defendants.
“That’s real enforcement, and experience shows that those kind of sanctions are taken seriously by employers and have a chilling effect on illegal hiring,” she wrote. “Ironically, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the 7-11 case was Loretta Lynch, now the Attorney General, and who stated at her confirmation hearing that she now believes that illegal aliens have a right to work here.”