Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 680 illegal aliens in Mississippi as the result of a yearlong worksite enforcement investigation. The aliens all worked at agricultural processing plants and encompassed six different cities across the state. Contrast this to President Trump’s July promise to arrest thousands of aliens with outstanding orders of removal, only to net 35 in the actual operation.
Why does ICE not direct more resources and time to worksite, rather than at-large, enforcement? Very few companies are ever punished for hiring illegal aliens. The researchers at Syracuse University’s TRAC immigration project note that “actual prosecution of employers for employing immigrants without proper documentation actually has been relatively rare.” Annual enforcement reports show that ICE arrests few aliens as a result of worksite raids. A majority of their arrests arise from prior interactions with traditional law enforcement.
This is not to say that ICE should stop prioritizing the arrest and removal of convicted criminal aliens – far from it. Of the 158,581 administrative arrests ICE made in FY 2018, more than 138,000 had prior or pending criminal charges. That strategy is certainly effective and gets dangerous criminal aliens out of our communities, but ICE can go further. Contrary to the narrative put forth by advocacy groups and many politicians, an illegal alien need not have a criminal record in order to be arrested by ICE. Merely being in the United States without legal authorization is grounds for removal.
Worksite enforcement succeeds beyond targeted and at-large enforcement in two major ways. First, worksite enforcement raids net significantly higher numbers of illegal aliens than regular raids. ICE searching a worksite known to have hundreds of alien workers will always be more successful than ICE pursuing a few dozen aliens in the streets of major cities. With more than 12.5 million illegal aliens in the United States, every arrest matters.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, worksite enforcement serves as a deterrent against both employers and aliens. Targeting individual aliens for arrest and removal presents an endless struggle as long as employers consider their businesses safe from enforcement. Targeting worksites and arresting employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens is an important tool that would make other companies think twice about hiring illegal aliens.
Additionally, if aliens realized that they could not find work because employers were too cautious of ICE’s worksite enforcement, many would likely return home, and fewer would come. Aggressive worksite enforcement in this way mirrors the effectiveness of E-Verify. It also gives ICE a unique way to bypass state and local sanctuary laws. Arresting hundreds of aliens employed at a processing facility, using federal agents in pursuit of a federal complaint, works around any restrictions that sanctuary legislation tries to throw in the way of enforcement.
The recent success of the Mississippi worksite raids should serve as a reminder to policymakers at ICE that worksite enforcement is an incredibly useful and effective, albeit underused, enforcement tool at their disposal. Worksite enforcement nets more arrests in one raid than traditional raids ever could. Prosecuting employers who hire illegal aliens will encourage their competitors and peers to avoid hiring illegal labor.
Increasing, expanding, and performing worksite enforcement ensures that ICE more efficiently fulfills its mission of enforcing federal immigration laws.