Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt large-scale anti-illegal immigrant raids on worksites in a Monday memo.
“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,” Mayorkas’ memo stated.
“These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations,” Mayorkas, a Biden appointee, wrote.
The memo laid out the Biden administration’s new approach toward dealing with workers who do not have the legal documents necessary to work and live in the United States.
Instead of focusing on these illegal migrant workers in workplace enforcement of immigration law, the administration seeks to concentrate on employers who circumvent federal law to exploit undocumented workers.
“Our accomplishments in this area make clear that we can maximize the impact of our efforts by focusing on unscrupulous employers who exploit the vulnerability of undocumented workers,” Mayorkas said in the memo.
“These employers engage in illegal acts ranging from the payment of substandard wages to imposing unsafe working conditions and facilitating human trafficking and child exploitation. Their culpability compels the intense focus of our enforcement resources.”
Undocumented immigrants, as of 2019, comprised around 5 percent of the labor force in the country, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
“A landmark study and survey of 4,300 workers in three major cities found that 37.1% of unauthorized immigrant workers were victims of minimum wage violations, as compared with 15.6% of U.S.-born citizens. Further, an astounding 84.9% of unauthorized immigrants were not paid the overtime wages they worked for and were legally entitled to,” the EPI report stated.
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In the Monday memo, Mayorkas wrote, “By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market. They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”
Mayorkas also stated that he was directing a “review of policies to facilitate the development of a Department-wide strategy” in order to, among other things, “alleviate or mitigate the fear that victims of, and witnesses to, labor trafficking and exploitation may have regarding their cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of unscrupulous employers.”
The Biden administration, according to the memo, is considering several policies to achieve that end.
These include providing “for the consideration of deferred action, continued presence, parole, and other available relief for noncitizens who are witnesses to, or victims of, abusive and exploitative labor practices,” according to Mayorkas’ memo.
The Homeland Security Secretary also wrote in the memo that he is directing a review of “the policies and measures that are in place to ensure that E-Verify is not manipulated to suppress unauthorized workers from, or to punish unauthorized workers for, reporting unlawful labor practices such as substandard wages, unsafe working conditions, and other forms of worker exploitation.”
Mayorkas also said that when investigating workplace standards and exercising prosecutorial discretion “for workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, workplace exploitation,” the requests for such discretion “should be considered on a case-by-case basis, weighing all relevant facts and circumstances.”
“In evaluating these requests, the legitimate enforcement interests of a federal government agency should be weighed against any derogatory information to determine whether a favorable exercise of discretion is merited,” Mayorkas stated.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration’s plan bears similarity to earlier policies the Clinton and Obama administrations undertook.
When former President Bill Clinton was commander-in-chief, the Department of Homeland Security’s predecessor — the Immigration and Naturalization Service — decided to refrain from trying to deport undocumented workers who had labor complaints, the WSJ reported.
During former President Barack Obama’s time, his administration stopped worksite immigration raids, although, according to reporting from The New York Times, the administration utilized audits to spot illegal immigrant workers.