Report: Feds Lax On Illegal Immigrants' Employers

Last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement changed tactics in its crackdown on illegal immigrants in the workforce. Instead of high-profile raids on workplaces, ICE chose audits of employers' files. Those audits would show who was working illicitly, and could result in the firing of the employees. But a Houston Chronicle story shows that based on documents obtained from ICE, almost no punishment is directed at the employers. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to reporter Susan Carroll about her story.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A little over a year ago, ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - changed tactics in its crackdown on illegal immigrants in the workforce. Instead of high-profile raids on workplaces, ICE chose audits of employers' files. Those audits would show who was working illicitly, and the employers would be told to fire them.

Well now, the Houston Chronicle has obtained internal ICE documents, which show that the audits have turned up many suspect papers for employees but have not resulted in many fines for the employers. In fact, often, there weren't even formal warnings issued.

Susan Carroll is the Chronicle reporter who wrote this story. And she joins us now from Houston.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. SUSAN CARROLL (Reporter, Houston Chronicle): Thank you.

SIEGEL: You obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act, from ICE. What do they show about this policy of audits?

Ms. CARROLL: These show that ICE, in many instances, is not punishing employers who they find to have a large number or percentage of their workers with suspect documents.

SIEGEL: And when you say a large number, what would qualify as a large number?

Ms. CARROLL: Well, I'll give you a few examples. In a California company, investigators found that 262 employees, which actually made up 93 percent of that company's workforce, had suspect documents on file. In Illinois, they found that eight of 10 workers at a company that had more than 200 employees also had questionable documents.

In the 400 cases that we reviewed, more than 110 companies had workers with questionable paperwork.

SIEGEL: And in those 110 companies, fines were not typically levied against the company for employing so many people with questionable papers?

Ms. CARROLL: No. In total, the agency ordered 14 companies to pay $150,000.

SIEGEL: The point of this strategy of doing audits, as I understood it, was rather than do the high-profile raid of the workplace - where you end up catching only those workers who happen to be on that shift at that time, and then you're stuck with a question of what do you do with them - this way, you just send the word, fire that person. And then they can make a decision as to whether they're going to stay in the country or not.

Do you know whether people were actually fired from these companies?

Ms. CARROLL: There's actually no way for me to tell in these records. In some instances, ICE has noted when they close the cases, that the case was closed based on word from the employers that they had terminated workers. I have heard from immigrant advocates that thousands of people have lost their jobs in connection with the audits.

So at least out in the field, it sounds like people are getting fired.

SIEGEL: Well, Susan Carroll, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Ms. CARROLL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Susan Carroll, of the Houston Chronicle.

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