Immigration Alert: ICE’s Recent Worksite Enforcement Actions Evidence of Continued Focus on Employers’ Role in Illegal Immigration

August 28, 2008

On August 25, 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), conducted the largest single-workplace immigration raid in U.S. history at Howard Industries, Inc., an electric transformer manufacturing facility, located in Laurel, Mississippi. Approximately 595 illegal aliens were arrested and 8 will be prosecuted for criminal charges of aggravated identity theft. The agents executed a federal criminal search warrant for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes, as well as a civil search warrant for individuals illegally in the United States.

According to the ICE Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Investigations in New Orleans, Michael A. Holt, this enforcement action is “part of ICE’s ongoing nationwide effort to shut down the employment magnet fueling illegal immigration.” Although no company executives have been detained, the investigation is ongoing with the execution of search warrants only the first part in the enforcement action.

In addition, on May 12, 2008, ICE special agents detained nearly 400 works at Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant, in Iowa and seized dozens of fraudulent permanent resident alien cards from the plant’s human resources department. At least one supervisor has since pleaded guilty to conspiring to hire illegal immigrants and aiding and abetting their hiring and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

These recent events highlight ICE’s strategy of sending a strong deterrent message to employers by conducting large-scale enforcement actions which immediately impact a company’s bottom line. In addition to the lost profits incurred by companies during an enforcement action (which may include shutting down a plant for a period of time because of lack of workers), ICE is focused on pursuing criminal enforcement actions against a company’s supervisors and potentially the company itself. ICE’s current strategy differs dramatically from the approach of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) which focused on imposing civil fines on employers who hired illegal aliens. Today, ICE relies on large-scale enforcement actions, criminal prosecutions and the seizure of company assets to gain compliance from businesses.

For example, in 2002, ICE made 25 criminal arrests and 485 administrative arrests. In 2007, ICE made 863 criminal arrests and 4077 administrative arrests. ICE is on track to far surpass those numbers in 2008. As of August 12, 2008 (prior to the recent enforcement action at Howard Industries), ICE had made 1022 criminal arrests and 3900 administrative arrests.

These enforcement actions highlight the need for companies to have comprehensive human resources policies regarding the hiring and employment of their workers to ensure that all workers are, and continue to be, authorized to work in the United States. In addition, companies need to regularly monitor these policies to ensure that their managers are not turning a blind eye to evidence that a worker may be unauthorized, while at the same time, complying with all relevant anti-discrimination laws.

McGuireWoods has extensive experience in handling matters involving workforce authorization, in dealing with ICE and DHS in situations such as that presented by the recent worksite enforcement actions, and in helping companies to address immigration-related concerns through advice, compliance auditing, internal investigations, and design and implementation of immigration-related compliance programs. If you wish to discuss the recent worksite enforcement actions in greater detail, or to receive assistance in a related matter, you may contact the authors.