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Dial Back Worksite Enforcement Ops, Hispanic Caucus Asks ICE Director

ICE officers served 122 notices of inspection to businesses in the Los Angeles area during a five-day operation in February 2018. (ICE photo)

WASHINGTON — The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement to dial back their worksite I-9 auditing, arguing that they’re “counterproductive, reduce reporting of crimes, undermine safety and harm the economy.”

“ICE should instead focus its limited resources on hardened criminals, not hard-working individuals who are positively contributing to our communities,” the lawmakers wrote to Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan.

Employers fill out I-9 forms with verification that employees are eligible to work in the United States. Those forms are then kept on file for three years. If the employee leaves, the I-9 is kept on file for a year.

Homan has directed ICE agents to step up worksite enforcement “by four to five times,” and immigration-rights advocates are reporting an increase in ICE operations at businesses.

In the letter last week to Homan, the CHC members said such audits “sow distrust of law enforcement among immigrant communities and ultimately undermine public safety.”

“It is critical that our communities trust local authorities to keep them safe. If individuals are victims of a crime or if they see something suspicious, we want them to report these concerns to local law enforcement,” the lawmakers wrote.

The ICE audits “could fuel crime,” the members of Congress argued.

“As immigrant communities become fearful of and increasingly estranged from law enforcement, they are more vulnerable to being exploited by criminals. Transnational gangs already attempt to use immigrant communities as a host or hiding place for criminal activities. Increased enforcement efforts would no doubt exacerbate these practices and result in increased exploitation and reduced reporting of crimes. Immigrants are some of the most vulnerable among us — our priority should be to target and apprehend criminals and protect hardworking individuals from violence and crime, not to instill fear in our communities,” the letter continued.

“Furthermore, immigrants play an important role in key business sectors, including agriculture, hospitality and the service industries. Increased I-9 audits would have significant economic ramifications for these critical businesses and lead to possible labor shortages and increased workplace discrimination. In addition, these audits would place the onus on employers and require them to act as immigration officials.”

Prioritizing I-9 audits “diverts ICE resources from other critical enforcement priorities,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Under this new policy, ICE will send armed agents to businesses around the country to search for employment paperwork irregularities rather than enlisting these agents to track down human traffickers, investigate terrorists, or apprehend members of transnational criminal organizations. This would be an irresponsible use of limited resources and we call on ICE to prioritize public safety threats,” they added. “Rather than quadrupling-down on this misguided policy, we urge ICE to take a more strategic and sophisticated approach to interior immigration enforcement: one that builds working partnerships with immigrant communities to apprehend dangerous criminals.”

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), whose district includes many agricultural businesses in central California, reached out to Homan earlier this month about I-9 work site audits in Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties. “We need smart law enforcement, not policies that intimidate immigrants, divide communities, and undermine our economy,” Costa said Thursday.

The Hispanic Caucus asked Homan for a response by April 15.