National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Enforcement Fantasies: Raids Will Not Solve Our Problems

February 17, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

This post was written by Forum intern Charles Gillig


It is telling that one of the first acts of the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), was to change the name of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law to the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. This change reflects a shift away from a focus on achieving comprehensive reform to one that pushes enforcement as the solution to our immigration woes, including what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. 

The Subcommittee held its initial hearing on January 26, titled, “ICE’s Workplace Enforcement: Up to the Job?”  In the hearing, Republican subcommittee members criticized ICE’s current workplace enforcement strategy, which focuses on conducting so-called “I-9 audits,” and hinted at the need for more arrests of undocumented migrants.  With the I-9 audit, ICE agents investigate businesses to see if the employers have properly determined whether all their employees can work legally in the U.S. Employers who hire undocumented workers and who fail to keep adequate I-9 records, face government fines anywhere between $100-1,000 for each unauthorized employee. Republicans do not belief that the focus on employers is a sufficient deterrent to illegal immigration.

In an attempt to defend the efficacy of the audits, ICE Deputy Director Kumar Kibble emphasized that ICE was “aggressively pursuing” employers who hired undocumented immigrants and that ICE had “record-breaking results” in the past fiscal year. In FY 2010 ICE set news marks for worksite enforcement investigations (2,746, up from the previous high of 1,191 in FY2008), arrests of employers for work-site violations (196, up from the previous high of 135 in 2008), and they shattered their marks for fines handed out to employers ($7 million up from $1 million in FY2009).  Still, Kibble’s comments and numbers did not satisfy Republican members.  Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegy (R-CA)—perhaps not having paid attention to the testimony—said that ICE was “failing to enforce U.S. laws” and admonished the organization for allowing illegal immigrants to take American jobs. The solution professed by the Republican members: restart workplace immigrant raids.  One Republican witness said that raids should be part of what he called “full spectrum enforcement”—a new name for the same old failed strategy of enforcement-only.

The fact is, raids are an expensive and inhumane way to tackle the problem of illegal immigration. They terrify undocumented and authorized workers alike, and can be devastating to a community.  Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) echoed this sentiment at the hearing, stating in reference to raids under the Bush administration that, "I was appalled at the raids.” She later underscored the point that raids do not solve the underlying fact that comprehensive immigration reform is ultimately necessary for optimal worksite enforcement.

Another problem with raids is that, particularly in industries heavily dependent on undocumented workers, they can have ripple effects that ultimately put more Americans out of work. For example, between 50% and 75% of the agricultural workforce is undocumented.  Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) mentioned a Department of Agriculture report concluding that every farm worker provides three jobs to Americans in related support businesses. This is just one example demonstrating that immigrants are critical sparkplugs to our economy. Why would the U.S. want these workers to live in daily fear of being torn away from their families in the middle of night in hostile and sometime violent raids?

Republicans want to use raids to get more undocumented workers out of the U.S., despite ICE having set a record for deportations in 2010, with over 393,000 people being removed from the country. This is not cheap. Deputy Director Kibble said these deportations cost ICE about $12,500 per person, but when all costs are tallied, deportation costs per person total approximately $23,000.

The new House Judiciary Subcommittee has the power and influence to make positive and necessary changes in our immigration policies. Unfortunately, Republican members appeared to use the Subcommittee’s first hearing to challenge ICE and the Obama Administration’s current worksite enforcement strategy as insufficient. In doing so, they forget that under previous administrations, a focus on raids got us nowhere closer to a solution to the nation’s immigration problems. As Rep. Lee stated well near the end of the hearing, ICE is simply doing the best it can with the resources provided by Congress. It is this nation’s lawmakers that must provide the overarching solution.


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