ICE Agents in Riverside, California speak with the mother of an immigrant who was detained and deported.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are targeting businesses nationwide that offer work to undocumented immigrants in what they are calling “worksite enforcement surges,” the agency said Tuesday.
Immigration officials so far have served 3,282 businesses with notices of inspection in recent weeks, warning them that their records will be audited. Officials said notices won’t stop there and will continue to be rolled out across 50 states and Puerto Rico.
ICE would not give a breakdown on how many were issued in Florida.
“When we perform these worksite surges, our primary goal is to pursue criminal prosecution against those businesses, who frankly their business model is based upon illegal employment,” said ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence on a call with reporters Tuesday. “We are going after those individuals that are here illegally and working unlawfully as well.”
Albence said the agency will pursue “a host of charges with regard to illegal employment of aliens to include: tax fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, both against the company as well as the employee.”
According to Customs and Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement and Removal Operations agents inside ICE detention centers, the “large majority” of people crossing the southern border are “economic migrants” — people looking for the opportunity to obtain a job.
“What this effort is trying to do is restore integrity to the employment system within this country so that individuals who are not lawful and do not have lawful authorization to work here in the country cannot easily find employment,” Albence said. “When you have businesses that utilize illegal labor, we will go after them aggressively and try to instill a culture of compliance with regard to both hiring practices and documentation practices.”
Rebecca Shi, the executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, told the Herald that ICE’s targeted enforcement will be “disastrous” to the agricultural and hospitality industry.
“This will not only hurt jobs it will hurt the economy,” Shi said.
Though worksite audits are not uncommon for ICE, the agency has ramped up their operations, and will continue to keep illegal employment as a focal point, the agency said.
“We’ve definitely seen a growth in audit inspections. This effort makes no economical or political sense,” Shi added. “The reality is, native-born people aren’t going after jobs like picking tomatoes, citrus, landscaping. That’ been part of the American story for generations. You start at the bottom.”
Jonathan Fried, executive director of WeCount!, a farmworkers’ rights group in Homestead, told the Miami Herald he’s “concerned about the well-being of people whom are trying to make a living while contributing to our economy.”
“It’s an open secret that there are a number of sectors in the economy that are dependent on immigrant labor, including folks that are undocumented,” Fried said. “These jobs have brought benefits to the economy, criminalizing them because they are doing this is wrong.”
According to the New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization focused on immigration, Miami’s immigrants paid more than $16 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
A report released last week by the group says immigrants in Miami made up more than 70 percent of the workforce in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industry —a 10 percent increase from 2016.
“Immigrants in Miami are the backbone of the industries that drive growth in the area, from construction to manufacturing,” said Kate Brick, Director of State and Local Initiatives at New American Economy, noting that immigrants made up 62.7 percent of construction workers and 59 percent of manufacturing workers in Miami.