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How Obama is firing immigrant workers -- but not deporting them

By Suzy Khimm

While President Obama has moved away from the controversial workplace raids that characterized the Bush era of immigration enforcement, the Obama administration has ramped up audits on employers that hire illegal immigrants. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is now relying heavily on civil complaints and fines to threaten companies found to hire significant numbers of illegal immigrants.

In a prominent case last year, American Apparel ended up firing some 1,800 immigrant employees -- about a quarter of its workforce -- after an ICE investigation found irregularities in identity documents. The rationale is that such crackdowns will help deter companies from hiring illegal immigrants -- and curb exploitative labor practices that result in low wages and poor working conditions for immigrants.

In line with the rest of Obama's broad-based crackdown on immigration, workplace audits have actually increased 50 percent since the Bush administration, with fines tripling to nearly $3 million and executive arrests on the rise as well. Nevertheless, some anti-immigration conservatives are up in arms about the fact that actual workplace arrests of illegal immigrants have plummeted under the current administration.

This week, Fox News seized upon a new report that arrests and deportation of illegal immigrations taken into custody at work sites has dropped more than 80 percent from George W. Bush's last year in office. Fox News cites one former Bush official who slammed the approach as "de facto amnesty," accusing the Obama administration of "turning a blind eye to entire categories of aliens" fand failing to arrest and deport the illegal immigrants who turn up on these workplace audits.

But even if tougher immigration enforcement is the goal, simply arresting and deporting these immigrant workers en masse doesn't seem to be a sensible policy solution. Especially in the absence of a comprehensive immigration overhaul, the federal government has limited resources to go after illegal immigration. Taking such constraints into account, the Obama administration has vowed to focus on arresting and deporting immigrants who've committed serious crimes, and immigrants who are simply showing up for work are doing nothing criminal. (Unauthorized presence is a civil offense, not a criminal one.)

What's more, there's already a major backlog of deportation cases that have yet to reach the courts, as I explained yesterday. It seems unwise and unfair to clog up the legal system with more non-criminal immigrants, particularly as a quarter of those who have already been deported under Obama had no criminal records.

If anything, the Obama administration could be more selective about the kind of employers that are subjected to immigration audits. If the administration were truly committed to targeting the worst offenders in the U.S. immigration system, it would make a more concerted effort to target employers who are truly exploiting their workers. American Apparel, for one, prided itself on providing health care and decent wages to its employees (though the company's very public advocacy on behalf of illegal immigrants may have also made it a prime target). In other instances, workplace audits have prompted employers to fire both legal and unauthorized immigrants for fear of being penalized by the government, says Marc Rosenblum, a senior policy analyst at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute. The federal government's audits may well be deterring some employers from hiring illegal immigrants, he adds, "But it's a blunt instrument for doing that."

Suzy Khimm is a political reporter for the Washington bureau of Mother Jones.

By Suzy Khimm  |  August 25, 2010; 6:25 PM ET
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This is a potentially huge story that just doesn't get enough coverage. Most of the loud voices calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration are selling some fantasy that more physical barriers and more harrassment of possible immigrants will stanch the flow of undocumented migrant labor - but this is just silly. Consider that these people are going heavily into debt, thereby placing their entire families at risk, are leaving behind everything and likely everyone they know and love, and are placing their lives into the hands of people they know to be criminals, and likely to be vicious drug traffickers to boot, in order to cross the border (often by hiking across a deadly desert or by spending a month in a shipping container), and once here they do strenuous jobs here for low pay and often under horrible conditions. A border fence and some papers checks are going to deter people who are already facing all of those disincentives?

We don't have a supply problem, we have a demand problem. If our economy didn't demand low-wage, easily exploitable workers they wouldn't go through hell to reach us and claim those jobs. Cracking down on employers of undocumented labor, and especially cracking down on employers who exploit their workers with illegally or unreasonably low pay and with unacceptable working conditions, is the logical way to address this demand problem - and the more abusive employers must not only be stripped of their captive labor force, but penalized for their exploitation.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | August 25, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I can see a day when nations will compete for the migrant labor force and compete for them to become citizens. When Americans start doing without or paying the full price for products and services historically gained with illegal labor, we'll see what we really want. And when we come to understand that these immigrants are really young and could support our ailing social security program and be a source of real tax relief, watch out - there will "welcome stranger" job fairs in Mariposa County with Sheriff Arapho holding "fast-track to citizenship" seminars.

Posted by: deepierson | August 25, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

There is Contempt for those who have adisgusting report of not supporting the people and resolute on awarding Amnesty.Democrats under HS Secretary Napolitano new directive that—ONLY—criminal aliens are being deported and the rest are being released back into society. Every illegal alien must be removed or this can be classed as a stealth—AMNESTY. Being unable to pass some kind of PATH TO CITIZENSHIP, the majority leadership are allowing economic illegal aliens to GO and therefore take America jobs. NumbersUSA has this nation's most complete record of every immigration action ever taken by every single Member of Congress. Their computers calculate an Immigration-Reduction grade for a Member's CAREER, and also for the RECENT actions (2007-10), and for THIS CONGRESS. For an example Senator Reid has a lousy representation on illegal immigration of (F MINUS) and his push for another Amnesty. Seems to millions of Americans that the Democrats will tax us, so we can subsidize the juggernauts of illegal aliens still entering America.

According to the Heritage Foundation analysis of Reid's amnesty program, taxpayers will be burdened with an additional $2.6 trillion in retirement benefits, for illegal aliens settled here, which even flip flopper Sen. John McCain wants to become citizens. FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) Illegal Immigration expenditures have reached $113 Billion annually, prejudiced Drain on Taxpayers. With an addition of $60 billion of illegal wages spirited out of the country as a legal remittance, with the compliments of numerous American banks.


Posted by: infinity555 | August 25, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Consider this - there is limited space in the paddy wagon that will be used to remove illegal aliens. The wagon is physically capable of making a limited number of runs each month. Should we fill the wagon up with whoever happens to be most easily available or focus on filling it with people who pose a threat to the safety and property of citizens. I would prefer that the paddy wagon be filled to capacity with real criminals and transport the civil offenders only after the criminals are cleared out.

Posted by: daubry | August 26, 2010 3:49 AM | Report abuse

There already is a "pathway to citizenship." You start from your country of origin, you then apply to migrate LEGALLY into the USA. Then, you wait while you are checked out, verified, and if and only if approved, THEN you may enter the USA and become a citizen. THAT is the pathway to citizenship. If you are in the USA illegally, go back home to your country of origin, get back to the end of the line. MAYBE then you can earn the right to be a citizen.

Enforce CURRENT immigration laws already on the books. Arrest and deport every illegal immigrant. Deny anchor babies the right to citizenship if both parents are not legal citizens. 12-20 million people living in the USA illegally are not immigrants, they are invaders.

Secure the border, and you will stop the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants. The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, and the current security walls in Israel/West Bank ALL prove that if you are serious about securing your borders, it CAN BE DONE. To those who say "you can't expect all 12-20 million illegal immigrants to leave:" YES WE CAN, if we want to. It's been done before, Mexican Repatriation it was called, back then. See: Wikipedia entry for Mexican Repatriation:

There is an endless pot of taxpayer money to throw at Iraq, Afganistan, and policing the oil industries' (and China's export cargo ships') safe passage. I say it's time to use our tax dollars to DEFEND the USA. It is time for us to use the National Guard literally, to guard the nation's borders.

Please spare me the sob story of breaking up families; if parents are here illegally, they can take their children back home to the parent's country of origin when deported. If you wed an illegal immigrant, you most likely knew that going into it, and if not, then your marriage is based on lies and deception. No family need be broken up; keep the family together by having them ALL go at once when the illegal is deported.

Mark Pepp
Chicago IL

Posted by: pobox10275 | August 26, 2010 5:51 AM | Report abuse

"Unauthorized presence is a civil offense, not a criminal one"

"....its a blunt instrument"

And here we go again - not one solution is offered except to once again, suggest that Comprehensive Immigration Reform read AMNESTY is the only humane, civil thing to do about all those who are crossing our borders ILLEGALLY.

Been there done that and got and tore up the Tee shirt - in the 80's as you well know.........

Posted by: LMW6 | August 26, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

What's more, there's already a major backlog of deportation cases that have yet to reach the courts, as I explained yesterday. It seems unwise and unfair to clog up the legal system with more non-criminal immigrants, particularly as a quarter of those who have already been deported under Obama had no criminal records.
Illegal migration into this country was moved from a felony offense to a civil offense in order to allow a treaty to come forward which enabled our citizens to be retrieved from foreign shores more easily. Our citizens generally make one stupid mistake, and not two.

VERY clearly, we are dealing with a people who are receiving advice from the Catholic Church,
(Pope John Paul II said it is a Catholic’s “duty to welcome whoever comes knocking out of need. Such openness builds up vibrant Christian communities)

and, political social organizations that have tossed the 'civil' law and pursue their own course of action. So with the Catholic Church (Google Catholic Immigration) actively ignoring our laws along with very wealthy interest groups,

Contributors to The National Council of The Race

the American People don't have much of a chance seeing the laws enforced against that kind of money and influence. Those illegal aliens may, or may not be deported. It depends on this coming election in part. But that they are not now deported provides you with a very clear picture of the current society and a very, very dangerous point in our Democracy of and by the People of the United States.

Posted by: joelwisch | August 26, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

He Obama, better start doing his job..This article says it all where these illegal people are coming from not just mexican crossing over...

Mexico City, Mexico (CNN) -- Mexican investigators have asked diplomats from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil to help identify the bodies of 72 presumed migrants discovered at a ranch in northeast Mexico.

The nationalities of the deceased have not yet been confirmed, according to a statement released by Mexican President Felipe Calderon's office late Wednesday.

Brazil said its foreign ministry was informed there were at least four Brazilians among the dead, the official Agencia Brazil news service reported Wednesday evening. There was no further information about the identity of the dead Brazilians or exactly how many had been killed, the government-run news agency said.

They know Obama is soft on Illegal immigration so now they will be comming
To American...

Posted by: Toshadow | August 26, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Pepp is right! Forget making excuses for these illegal immigrants coming to this country. Lack of life sustaining work in Mexico should be the focus of the Mexican government.That is not America's job! Our country and it's civil systems are being abused by illegal immigrants...from anchor babies, to free medical care, to free education, etc..Whether we offend advocates of amnesty, or,not, it is incumbent upon us to protect our own citizen's rights. There can be no shortcuts for illegals to gain citizenship here. Sometimes one has to do the hard thing, to do the right thing!

Posted by: roanns | August 26, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Obama and the Democrats do not want these people taking jobs from Americans but they don't want them deported either. They would like to have another 12 million dependant people as voters. This country has been invaded by 12 million illegal foreigners and now there are about 4 million children living in the US whose parents are illegal. One out of eight births in the US are now to people who have entered this country illegally. All (100%) of illegal aliens need to be deported. The Federal government has failed in its responsibility. Federal officials, including judges, who fail to carry out their Constitutional duty need to be removed from office or impeached. Let's start this November.

Posted by: acahorvath | August 26, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Infinity is correct - the great majority of our elected representatives and the government organizations they control are not willing to do effective workplace enforcement. A few audits here and there, even a few thousand each year are a drop in the bucket; there has to be a more efficient approach - mandate E-Verify to check all jobs in the US, existing and future. I agree with the author - deportation is expensive. When the goverment mandates E-Verify and enforces that mandate; that is when the jobs currently held by illegal aliens will be freed up for our legal workforce, and illegal aliens will depart for greener pastures, perhaps their own countries. True, maybe things will cost a tiny bit more, but I suspect that is okay with the majority of US citizens.

Posted by: merbc | August 26, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Don't blame the Obama admin. or any admin., blame both major parties for refusing to recognize that the real problem with Mexico is on the other side of the border, namely, a failed country and incurably corrupt govt. that is like a ticking time bomb threatening to blow up in our faces. Both parties need to quit playing ostrich and agree on the general goal of reorganizing Mexico as a new U.S. sector and just haggle about the timing and details. Both parties can start by reading my Megamerge Dissolution Solution proposal that shows why and how it can be done in just years with a bipartisan effort, until which time neither party is doing anything but fiddling while Rome burns:

Posted by: tlwinslow | August 26, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe those illegal lovers who are so vastly uninformed. Ninety percent of all illegals have committed identity fraud, which is a felony. How many other felons is the OBUMA ADMINISTRATION going to release to suit their socialistic dreams. How about the guy who said amnesty will save social security because of all these young contributors-what an idiot.
All that needs to be done is greatly increase the employer fines,and the illegals will find their way back when their jobs dry up. VERY SIMPLE!

Posted by: RobBurt | August 26, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

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