Biden Administration Ends Workplace Immigration Raids

The days of undocumented workers being rounded up at workplace raids are over. Instead, the federal government is taking aim at the employers who take advantage of desperate immigrants.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote a memo to the leaders of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about the policy shift.

The previous administration often used these large raids to arrest hundreds of workers:

  • In January 2018, dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores were raided.
  • In April 2018, 97 workers were arrested at a meatpacking plant near Knoxville, Tenn.
  • In June 2018, agents raided Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Ohio and arrested 114.
  • In June 2018, another Ohio raid netted 146 arrests at a meat processing plant.
  • In August 2018, agents arrested 133 people in vegetable processing plant raids in Nebraska and Minnesota.
  • In April 2019, a cellphone refurbishing company in Texas was raided, resulting in the arrest of 280 people.
  • In August 2019, almost 700 migrant workers at six chicken processing plants were arrested in Mississippi (the largest single-state raid in history).

All too often, the managers and owners of these businesses were not prosecuted. The law requires that the companies “knowingly” hire unauthorized immigrants, which is often used as a loophole by the businesses. Even worse, according to Secretary Mayorkas, is that some employers use raids to retaliate against workers who speak out about unfair and unsafe working conditions.

Immediate Guidance to Immigration Agencies

The administration provided guidance that should be immediately implemented at the three agencies, ICE, CBP, and USCIS.

Secretary Mayorkas’ policy statement memorandum addressed two areas for immediate action:

  • Worksite Raids. Workplace raids that sometimes resulted in hundreds of workers being arrested simultaneously conflict with the Sept. 30, 2021, Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration Law. These guidelines require an individualized assessment of undocumented workers, something impossible in the raids in past years. The mass worksite operations also did not result in the effective prosecution of employers engaging in illegal hiring and labor practices.
  • Prosecutorial Discretion. The Department of Labor has asked DHS to consider prosecutorial discretion for undocumented workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, workplace exploitation. All relevant facts should be examined and requests for prosecutorial discretion should be made on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to the immediate guidance, new policies that focus on employers will be developed.

New Policies on Employment Practices

In his memo to immigration leadership, he said that employers’ culpability compels the focus of enforcement efforts. Secretary Mayorkas has given the leadership of the three immigration agencies 60 days to present him with recommendations on how to strengthen the E-Verify system so that it is not used as a tool for exploitive labor practices.

“These employers engage in illegal acts ranging from the payment of substandard wages to imposing unsafe working conditions and facilitating human trafficking and child exploitation,” he wrote.

The goals of the policies to be developed are as follows:

  • Reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers and their agents
  • Increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigations
  • Broaden and deepen mechanisms for coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and state labor agencies

Workers, even undocumented, should not be victims of unsafe and unfair working conditions.

Protection for Workers and Legitimate Businesses

Exploiting undocumented workers creates an unfair labor market. Paying them substandard wages drives down the wages for everyone. Businesses that hire unauthorized workers can hold the threat of deportation to keep workers from revealing unsafe and unsanitary worksite conditions to others.

These hiring and operational practices unfairly reduce the costs of running a business and create a disadvantage for those businesses that are following the law. Prosecutorial discretion of undocumented workers can help bring these illegal business operations to light.

Personalized Attention to Immigration Cases

Immigration law is complex. Policies, guidelines, and procedures change. At Sebastian Simon Law Group, PLLC, our attorney has years of experience working in the challenging and ever-changing landscape of immigration. Our goal remains to help those seeking a better life in the United States.

Deportation defense, asylum seekers, citizenship and naturalization, work visas, and more – we have the in-depth knowledge required to handle complicated immigration cases. As a native of Chile, Sebastian Simon has personal experience with the U.S. immigration system and is devoted to guiding clients through convoluted policies and laws.

If you need legal counsel for any immigration matter, contact us online or call (713) 839-0639 for a case evaluation.