The acting chief of interior immigration enforcement on Tuesday pledged a four- or fivefold increase in workplace enforcement of immigration laws.
Thomas Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that he will order the agency’s investigators to look for businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
“We’re taking work site enforcement very hard this year,” he said after delivering a speech defending the overall efforts of his agency and President Donald Trump. “We’ve already increased the number of inspections and work site operations. You’re going to see that significantly increase the next fiscal year.”
Asplundh Tree Expert, a tree-trimming service in the Philadelphia suburbs, gained widespread attention several weeks ago when the government hit it with a $95 million fine for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. But that has been the exception, not the rule.
Homan acknowledged that aggressive border security by itself will be insufficient to get illegal immigration under control.
“Unless you remove the magnets … they’re gonna keep coming,” he said. “As long as they’re coming to get a job, they’ll try to come. So we are stepping up work site enforcement.”
Advocates of stricter immigration enforcement cheered Homan’s remarks.
“We’d love to see that happen … That has been a missing ingredient in Trump immigration enforcement,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA.
Chmielenski told LifeZette that the government stepped up workplace enforcement during the end of the George W. Bush administration and kept it up during former President Barack Obama’s first term. He said that since then, however, enforcement has been almost nonexistent.
“People come here to get jobs,” he said. “And the government allows them to get jobs because they don’t enforce job site violations. And employers don’t worry about it because they know there will be no enforcement.”
At the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has long called for more attention to the issue, spokesman Ira Mehlman said he hopes Homan follows through.
“It’s certainly encouraging that they’re going to step up workplace enforcement,” he said. “One thing everybody agrees on is jobs are the great magnet for illegal immigrants.”
Mehlman and Chmielenski both said that enforcement would be easier if Congress required all businesses to use the E-Verify system, which confirms that job applicants are authorized to work legally in the United States. A bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) would do just that.
Even without E-Verify, Mehlman said, high-profile actions against companies that use illegal labor would serve as a powerful deterrent.
“It sends a very clear message,” he said.
Mehlman said a lack of jobs has made a significant dent in illegal immigration in the past. He pointed to a decline in illegal immigration when the Great Recession destroyed jobs.
“When jobs aren’t there, illegal immigration dries up,” he said.
Chmielenski said ICE’s investigative arm, called Homeland Security Investigations, certainly can pursue tips to root out illegal hiring practices. But he added that another strategy is to randomly audit companies and inspect I-9 forms, the documents submitted by legal immigrants in the United States.
Chmielenski acknowledged that such random checks might open law enforcement officials to legal challenges. But he noted that the Obama administration employed that tactic. He pointed to several operations that targeted Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants.
Mehlman said FAIR favors an all-of-the-above strategy.
“It probably needs to be a combination of both,” he said.