Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been the metaphorical attack dog against undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. That is, until it became the literal attack dog.
Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 saw the highest uptick in ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) yet, with 6,848 worksite investigations (FY 2017 saw only 1,691). HSI also performed 5,981 I-9 audits, which essentially ensures only legal immigrants are on a company’s payroll. This number is also up from FY 2017’s 1,360 audits.
The types of employees being caught and deported is not surprising — it’s not C-Suite business executives, but rather low-level workers in industries such as food service, construction, and landscaping. This desire to “get tough” on workers fails to recognize that many native-born workers are not interested in filling these low-level positions where availability is high and unemployment is low.
In June 2018 ICE raided an Ohio meat packaging plant and arrested 146 people, the majority of whom were Guatemalan immigrants. In the weeks and months following, the town lamented the departure of these individuals, as local businesses felt the drop in sales. This is just one side effect of immigrants’ mass exodus to resettle in areas where they feel safer.
Situations like this can be avoided if business owners stay compliant, starting with an internal I-9 audit. This first step may not bar employers from liability and/or fines, but it can help reduce them. The second step is to create a compliance plan that includes employee training, reporting, and safeguards from violating anti-discrimination laws.
Regardless of compliance measures, one issue remains: people want to fill these jobs — in turn boosting local economies — but there is no easy way for them to legally do so. The Trump administration has no intention of ramping down ICE anytime soon, making comprehensive immigration reform more crucial now than ever.