Don’t Call It a Raid

Jul 11, 2010

Yesterday’s NY Times profiled another example of what passes for reform in the age of Obama: The feds’ new "silent raids" on employers with undocumented workers. Rather than storming into workplaces, rounding folks up and deporting them, ICE now conduct paper audits of employers (presumably targeting industries with large undocumented workforces) and prompts them to fire, rather than deport anybody without a work visa. As the NYT reports:

Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures. Thousands of those workers have been fired, immigrant groups estimate. 

Employers say the audits reach more companies than the work-site roundups of the administration of President George W. Bush. The audits force businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on the payroll– not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid — and make it much harder to hire other unauthorized workers as replacements.

This is in keeping with the president’s stated goal of focusing immigration enforcement on employers and dangerous criminals rather than workers who’ve come to make a living. It’s also in keeping with the president’s preference to own the seal-our-borders conversation while awaiting some fantastical political opening to fix the immigration system.

It’s of course both counterproductive and dishonest. The reality, as the president himself has articulated out of the other side of his mouth, is that immigrant workers–documented and otherwise–help fuel our economy. If the feds are interested in stopping worker exploitation and creating a fair labor market, then they ought to make sure farm and restaurant jobs pay living wages and provide safe workplaces. And if the White House wants a political opening for immigration reform, it ought make creating that opening a priority. It hasn’t and won’t, any more than it has or will for jobs or foreclosures. Instead, people get fired rather than deported, and the White House calls it reform. The politics of hope, as it were.