On Wednesday, August 7, 2019, U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) conducted one of its largest immigration raids, arresting 680 foreign nationals who appeared to the government to be workers without authorization. By the end of the week, ICE agents had arrested more than 850 people in Mississippi alone.
The raids were part of a yearlong investigation and alleges that the Mississippi chicken processing plants they raided on August 7th knowingly hired unauthorized workers. Indeed, the search warrants were predicated upon evidence that company officials had direct knowledge that their workforce included large numbers of undocumented foreign nationals. However, before the sun came up on Thursday, August 8, 2019, half of those arrested were released from custody and none of the employers’ officials have been indicted so far. Aside from immigration charges, the only immediate outcome of the operation has been an employer reaction to terminate the employment of foreign nationals whose work authorization they believed to be in question.
On its surface, the raids seem most significant in their creating fear within immigrant communities and concern among employers. One should be cautious in analysis here though. Arrests, search warrants, releases, and indictments are distinct parts of the overall immigration enforcement regime. That arrestees are released after an immigration raid does not mean that serious legal proceedings were terminated and a lack of indictments following the execution of search warrants should not be interpreted as an indication that no charges are forthcoming.
ICE is pursuing a three-prong worksite enforcement strategy: civil law compliance actions, civil and criminal enforcement actions, and outreach to employers, with the overall goal of discouraging employers from employing unauthorized workers. As we have discussed before, ICE has dramatically increased its Form I-9 Audits in the last two years and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has significantly increased its own immigration inspections and investigations. The President has said that this is a “very good deterrent” in answer to questions about stepped-up worksite enforcement operations.
The implications of all of this are significant and Green & Spiegel is watching these matters closely. For employers, it is important to remember that ICE has long pursued executives whose companies hire unauthorized workers but we are now seeing an increased focus on the workers themselves and that appears to be part of the strategy. Also part of the strategy is to combine formal criminal investigation techniques with administrative immigration enforcement, seizing evidence and people in a single operation. This should particularly concern supervisors and managers whose direct contact with potentially unauthorized workers makes them a target for subsequent prosecution.
Green & Spiegel has significant experience in these areas and our Compliance and Regulatory Practice is specifically oriented to help businesses navigate these waters. If it is time to take stock of your company’s policies and procedures, contact us and let’s see what we can do to give your team peace of mind.