In his second term, George Bush has taken employer enforcement on illegal immigration a lot more seriously than during his initial term. After four years of inconsequential numbers of arrests and prosecutions, ICE reported a 50% increase in 2005, followed by a 500% increase in 2006 over 2004 numbers. In 2008 so far, the number has almost exceeded all of 2006. Despite this success, most of these arrests involve only the illegal aliens and not the employers, although that could change:
A three-year-old enforcement campaign against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is increasingly resulting in arrests and criminal convictions, using evidence gathered by phone taps, undercover agents and prisoners who agree to serve as government witnesses.
But the crackdown’s relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation.
Stewart A. Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department, recently told immigration experts the disparity can be traced to ineffective policies that need to be addressed by Congress.
“Companies tell me, ‘We have an immigration system that allows us to hire illegal workers, legally,’ ” Baker said. Asked to defend President Bush’s track record, he said, “Why are employers not punished more often? Because the laws we have don’t really authorize that.”
Still, those numbers have also increased, if not quite at the same rate as administrative detentions of illegals. ICE has put more effort into its investigations, and they have begun using tactics usually seen in mob infiltrations. They have used wiretaps and informants to catch employers and unions engaging in conspiracies to evade immigration enforcement and illegally employ ineligible workers.
Critics use the disparity in numbers to suggest injustice. In one of the larger raids in the upper Midwest, ICE arrested almost 400 suspected illegal workers in May and have already convicted most of them on charges relating to fraudulent documentation. Only 3 supervisors at Agriprocessors got arrested, though, and the firm itself continues its operation. However, ICE can only arrest those individuals for whom probable cause can be shown — and it’s a lot easier to arrest people who are in obvious violation of the law than it is to prove conspiracy to break it. It’s one of the reasons why low-level members in organized crime and drug rings get arrested but the bosses usually do not. That doesn’t make enforcement in those cases unjust, but it requires better tools and better resources to go after the bosses.
One such tool is e-Verify. Three states make it mandatory for hiring workers. A failure of an employer to use e-Verify in those states would almost immediately implicate the executives of a firm rather than just low-level supervisors, and once the firm uses e-Verify, they cannot pretend not to notice the illegal status of its applicants. The “no-match” letters provide similar grounds by informing employers when new hires may be using fraudulent Social Security numbers, but these have been stalled by federal lawsuits.
We need to get serious about enforcement. Bush has given ICE a good start, but until executives start believing that they risk jail time for themselves, employers will not end their practices of illegal hiring.