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Opinion

DHS to cease worksite raids

IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel - The Philippine Star

For anyone who is out of status, one of their biggest fears is an immigration raid at their workplace. We have all seen news reports of immigration raids at carwashes, restaurants, factories, processing plants, etc., where workers are rounded up and, if out of status, are handcuffed and taken away in vans for deportation/removal.

During my consultations, I’m constantly being asked, “What are the chances of DHS coming to my workplace, handcuffing me and marching me out in front of all of my coworkers?”

There is now good news, which should bring a sigh of relief to these hardworking individuals. On Oct. 12, 2021, Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security (DHS), issued a memo to ICE, USCIS and CBP, which radically changes the focus of DHS’s worksite enforcement policies or priorities. From now on, DHS will focus its worksite enforcement efforts on “unscrupulous employers who exploit the vulnerability of undocumented workers,” rather than apprehending workers who are out of status.

Sec. Mayorkas points out these employers “engage in illegal acts, ranging from payment of substandard wages to imposing unsafe working conditions and facilitating human trafficking and child exploitation.” By paying substandard wages, these unscrupulous employers not only harm the undocumented worker, but also create an unfair labor market and create a disadvantage to their business competitors who follow the law and pay proper wages.

By changing the focus of worksite enforcement (by going after unscrupulous employers), DHS hopes to “enforce wage protections, workplace safety, labor rights and other laws and standards.”

DHS recognizes that many exploited workers are afraid to come forward and report the abuses they endure, out of fear their employer will report them to DHS. Therefore, rather than apprehending these victims of exploitation, DHS should consider providing a number of protections and benefits, such as “deferred action, continued presence, parole and other available relief for non-citizens or witnesses to, or victims of, abusive and exploitative labor practices.”

There are also several temporary visas available for victims of crime, trafficking or abuse, or will be witnesses at trial. DHS should also “consider ways to ensure that noncitizen victims and witnesses generally are not placed in immigration proceedings during the pendency of an investigation or prosecution” of their unscrupulous employer.

The memo also instructs ICE to “cease mass worksite operations” or immigration raids. Secretary Mayorkas recognizes that the “deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country’s unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers.” Accordingly, DHS will “no longer conduct mass worksite operations and instead refocus our workplace enforcement efforts to better accomplish the goals outlined above.”

This memo is certainly good news in terms of changing the focus of immigration enforcement away from the exploited worker to the unscrupulous employers, who make their employees work long hours for low pay, in unsafe working conditions, while constantly threatening to keep quiet or they would be reported to DHS.

But what is really needed is for Congress to act, and to provide a way by which these hard-working undocumented immigrants can finally have a way to legalize their status once and for all, rather than living in the shadows and in uncertainty. We should urge Congress to finally act on immigration reform, instead of bickering and fighting among themselves, while the people suffer from their inaction.

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