DHS Issues “New” Worksite Enforcement Guidelines That Are Simply More of the Same

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is disappointed at the so-called new directive on worksite enforcement issued by Sec. Napolitano today and announced by a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release.  The directive itself has not been made public.

The press release announces a new emphasis on criminal prosecutions of employers and expanding coverage of humanitarian guidelines.  But at the same time, DHS reports that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency will continue to detain undocumented workers in workplace raids.

“Americans had been awaiting meaningful change under the Obama administration but all we’ve gotten seems to be more of the same type of ineffective and costly immigration enforcement that we saw with the mass ICE raids under the Bush administration,” stated Marielena Hincapié, executive director of NILC.  “We have seen the terrorizing effect ICE raids have had on families who have been ripped apart, children who have been abandoned, workers who have courageously come forward to report labor violations only to be detained, and on local economies which have been severely impacted.  It is simply unacceptable that these ‘new’ guidelines are the administration’s response to the millions of people demanding rational and humane immigration policies,” said Hincapié.

The directive purportedly shifts the focus toward employers engaged in criminal activity.  The press release does not even mention access to legal protections for workers who are victims of employer misconduct, such as access to visas for victims of human trafficking or other crimes, or as material witnesses to crimes.  “We support an enforcement scheme that goes after employers who are flouting the nation’s immigration and criminal laws as well as undercutting businesses that do play by the rules.  But the directive does not address the root causes of why employers recruit, hire, and exploit undocumented workers to begin with,” said Nora Preciado, employment policy attorney with NILC.  “This is a missed opportunity by the administration to focus on employers engaged in egregious labor violations and to see workers as essential to these prosecutions.  Instead immigrant workers across the nation will be pushed deeper into the shadows of our economy,” added Preciado.

The DHS press release states the agency plans to expand the existing humanitarian guidelines to worksite raids involving more than 25 undocumented workers.  While this reflects a change from the previous threshold of 150, NILC’s experience in supporting local groups in response to ICE raids has shown us that the humanitarian guidelines are fraught with more serious problems that should have been addressed.  The humanitarian guidelines need to be improved so they are uniformly followed by local ICE agents and guarantee that workers are not detained when alternatives to detention are available, obtain prompt access to counsel, and limit the transfer of detained immigrants away from their homes and families.

“This new guidance sends a strong message to the millions of Latinos who voted for change when they elected President Obama that this administration is not serious about change and protecting the rights of workers.  The stakes are even greater now for a broad and just immigration reform that will allow immigrant workers to come out of the shadows to continue contributing to the nation’s economy and participating fully in their communities,” concluded Hincapié.

To see the DHS press release, please click here.

For more information, contact Marielena Hincapié, 415-845-3403; or Nora Preciado, 213-674-2823.