After taking the ‘shackles’ off ICE, Trump is shifting his sweeping deportation crackdown to the workplace, with businesses set to pay a heavy price. Business leaders fear Trump’s immigration policies will create a labor shortage and cripple the economy, while economists remind us that immigrant labor benefits the economy.
This year, ICE plans to quadruple the targeting of both employers and employees via worksite raids, according to acting ICE Director Tom Homan. Homan has also ordered Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative ICE unit, to increase their time spent on work site enforcement “by four to five times.”
With a goal of sending a “strong message” to U.S. businesses, a huge federal enforcement operation recently raided 98 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country, resulting in 21 arrests. And as immigration officials said on Monday, 23 immigrants were arrested in New Mexico and west Texas last week after employment audit notifications were served to over 100 businesses.
Postville and Cactus
Ten years ago, as the Great Recession was unfolding, Postville, Iowa — a town with no stoplights or fast-food restaurants — experienced the largest workplace immigration raid at the time. Over 1,000 Homeland Security agents armed in SWAT gear, helicopters, and SUVs arrested 389 undocumented workers, nearly 20 percent of the population of the town, at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the United States and the town’s biggest employer. Three hundred people were deported, devastating the local economy and shuttering the meat packing plant. Costing over $5 million, the long-term societal and economic damage to Postville was detrimental.
A similar story happened in deep-red Cactus, Texas, according to a Washington Post story this week. In 2006, after an immigration raid dubbed Operation Wagon Train targeted the meatpacking giant Swift & Co., arresting nearly 1,300 workers — about 10 percent of the town’s population — workers never returned. Locals never recovered, saying the workplace raid changed Moore County for the worse. The dangerous U.S. meatpacking industry, with annual U.S. sales approaching $100 billion, continues to struggle to find qualified American workers to fill jobs, and relies heavily upon low-skilled immigrant and refugee labor. Today, it’s still mostly immigrants and refugees who work at Swift & Co. According to locals quoted in the Washington Post article, the plant’s owners would have to pay upward of $30 an hour to attract American-born workers, leading to much, much more expensive meat — and probably the closure of the plant altogether.
Doris Meissner, former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, the agency that preceded ICE), says work-site raids don’t work in the long term because they fail to address the fact that the U.S. needs workers. Without a visa system allowing unmet labor needs to be addressed, she said, ICE raids are a punitive measure that don’t attempt to provide a workable solution.
Know your rights
Labor organizers say the 7-Eleven raids are “motivating people to not use their labor rights” — such as filing a claim with the government when employers cheat on wages. Fewer employees calling out unscrupulous employers harms all workers. But workers afraid of ICE “distrust government agencies.”
Advocates are working to educate the community on their rights in the workplace, especially those dealing with wage theft or workplace safety violations, and offer the following resources:
- National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
- American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- U.S. Department of Labor
In California, state law requires employers to check for a warrant or subpoena before ICE can enter nonpublic work areas or access public records. KIWA Workers for Justice advocate, Jose Eduardo Sanchez, advises employers to have a plan, saying:
The most important rule — and if I could say this a thousand times in one conversation, I will — is that you have the right the right to remain silent.