In the wake of the recent ICE raids (referred to as “site inspections” by ICE) in Mississippi, the Washington Post asserted that the administration is cracking down on illegal alien workers but letting their employers off the hook. The August 9 story “As workplace raids multiply, Trump administration charges few companies” noted that only five immigration cases have been “pursued against corporations under Trump.”
In response to this criticism, ICE and federal prosecutors explained that enforcement actions against employers take a long time due to the need to gather evidence of business practices that is admissible in court. Such cases often take years to bring to trial.
And the legal standard involved makes charges difficult to prove. What was not mentioned by either the WaPo, or other critics, is that the relevant law specifies penalties against employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers. It does not, however, permit the prosecution of those deceived by illegal aliens’ fraud.
All employers are required to check that a potential worker is lawfully present in the United States and has authorization to work here. The problem is that most of the required documents are difficult to for employers to verify. If a worker provides fake documents, and the employer wasn’t able to detect the fraud, the employer is not subject to any criminal penalties.
In the past, various administrations have grappled with this problem differently. The Obama administration conducted some paper audits, which caused a small number of employers to lay off employees who had committed document fraud. But, in many cases, they simply caused workers to submit new documents, many of which were fake.
Some employers were, eventually, civilly fined for not bothering to check employment eligibility. However, there were few criminal prosecutions because employers could plausibly claim they did not know the workers were illegal aliens.
The advantage of, site inspections, rather than paper audits, is that any detained illegal workers can be questioned about how they were hired and about who knew they were working illegally. That information, if validated, may form the basis for prosecution when it is established that the employer either knew, or should have known, that those hired were illegally in the country and without authorization to work.
Any increase in enforcement actions that lead to major arrests of workers should remind shady employers of the financial damage that can be inflicted on their operations when they lose their exploited workforce.
And the Wapo’s swipe at ICE is a bit premature. Prosecutions are most likely in the works. Therefore, the WaPo and other mainstream media critics should keep their silence and let ICE and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for Mississippi do their jobs.