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Immigration 101: Workplace raids

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What are workplace raids? 

According to NILC, after the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was created, employers were supposed to be penalized for hiring unauthorized workers. While the rule was set in place to target employers, it has primarily been undocumented immigrants, their families, and communities that have paid the price. During the raids, workers have been unlawfully searched, profiled, intimidated, and degraded. 

Why are workplace raids an unconscionable practice? 

Workplace raids are unconscionable because they unfairly target workers who are already in a vulnerable situation because of their immigration status and just want to work in order to make a living wage. Workplace raids are traumatizing, not only to the individual who is now facing legal consequences, but also the family and community that are suddenly left wondering about their family member. 

Trump-era raids have completely devastated communities inside and out. For example during the notorious Mississippi raids in August 2019, ICE officials carried out raids at 7 different workplace locations. That day, ICE arrested around 680 people who were believed to be working without authorization. 

Many children returned home to empty houses and were left wondering where the parents might be. Many of those that were arrested were locked away for longer than a month, without being able to see their families. Some were outright deported and continue to face family separation. Overall, these raids have been a tragedy for the small town of Morton, Mississippi. 

These grotesque workplace raids did not start with Trump. The Bush administration also directed workplace raids where more than 400 unauthorized workers were arrested in an Iowa meatpacking facility. Then the Obama administration tried to focus on the employers that hired undocumented workers, but then thousands of undocumented workers were fired.

Why are they bad for small businesses? 

As we have come to learn from the most recent workplace raid in Mississippi, it is evident that taking away employees from a business will have long-term negative consequences. Not only is the emotional wellbeing of an individual and community vulnerable, but businesses are doomed to fail if most of their employees are taken away. 

According to Forbes, “the premise behind ICE raids is not to make it easier to work legally but to lower the supply of labor, which economists agree would be bad for the U.S.” An analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that if all unauthorized immigrants left the country, the economy would be 5.7% lower, and the average annual growth would decline by nearly 0.5%. With current labor numbers reaching an all-time low, it is not economically sound to continue workplace raids as it does not benefit anyone. 

What is currently being done about workplace raids? 

On October 12, the Department of Homeland Security directed ICE to stop mass worksite arrests. Instead, DHS aims to focus its policing efforts on exploitative employers. It is important to note that this decision comes in light of the U.S. labor shortage that ensued during the COVID pandemic. 

What is missing from this conversation? 

One thing is very clear: workplace raids are harmful to everyone, and while tackling employers seems like a win for most people, it also does not protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. The only solution to this underlying issue is to pass immigration reform that will ensure protection from deportation and provide work authorization. Even now, the Biden administration can ensure that he will not deport individuals to their country of origin and ensure that workers, even while undocumented, have their rights protected. 

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