U.S. Agency Silent On Raid. But Officials Say Immigration Enforcement Is On Increase

U.S. agency silent on raid
But officials say immigration enforcement is on increase

By Doug Abrahms
The Citizen Times (Asheville, NC), August 25, 2008

The recent immigration raid at Mills Manufacturing Corp. was part of stepped up enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, although the agency won't say why it targeted the Asheville company.

The agency focuses on immigration enforcement at airports, defense contractors and other businesses it considers critical infrastructure, as well as rooting out criminal illegal immigrants, said Richard Rocha, an ICE spokesman in Washington. He declined to comment on the reasons behind the Mills raid.

Because ICE can only investigate a small fraction of U.S. businesses, the pattern is not so clear, according to immigration experts.

The agency seems to be investigating work sites in industries with large concentrations of illegal immigrants where document fraud, employer collusion or other crimes might be involved, said Steve Camarota, research director at Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors stronger immigration enforcement. The agency has targeted companies across the U.S., he said.

'The problem is scattered across the whole country,' Camarota said. 'They're looking for cases that are not just run-of-the-mill, five illegal aliens employed by Joe's construction company.'

ICE arrested 57 workers for using fraudulent documents to obtain jobs on Aug. 12 at Mills, which makes parachutes for the Defense Department. The company employed about 175 before the raid.

ICE has stepped up workplace raids, and administrative arrests of workers that usually result in deportation jumped from 445 in 2003 to 4,077 last year. Its workplace raids have been scattered around the U.S. across various industries.

In the last two months of work site raids, ICE arrested:

* 42 at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

* 58 at a chain of Mexican restaurants in Ohio.

* 18 at a Colorado concrete plant.

* 43 at an agricultural business in Hawaii.

ICE has limited resources and can only go after a small slice of illegal workers, said Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, which opposes most work site raids.

'What troubles us is they seem to do inordinate targeting of those who are working rather than those who are making trouble,' Nerzig said. 'Why aren't they targeting the undocumented (workers) that pose a real risk to all us?'

ICE told Mills' executives that it was targeted because it was a government contractor, said John Oswald, chief executive at Mills.

The company cooperated with federal officials and wasn't charged because it had collected all the necessary documents on workers, he said.

'National defense was not in jeopardy because of the identity fraud that was perpetrated here,' said Oswald, who is working to hire employees.

'We don't focus on any specific industry, regardless of its size or type or location,' Rocha said. 'We hope to encourage a culture of corporate compliance.'

Increased raids lead to more workplace compliance, similar to traffic slowing down on a highway after seeing a motorist receiving a ticket, Camarota said.

The Center for Immigration Studies released a report in July saying the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has dropped in the past 12 months because of a slower economy and stepped-up immigration enforcement by local and federal officials.

'The goal is not to deport every illegal alien,' he said. 'The goal is to make employers and illegal aliens realize that the possibility of enforcement is real (and) that the immigration law is back in business.'

But there's no evidence to prove that raids have lowered the number of illegal workers in the U.S., said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center, which supports immigrants' rights.

Besides separating family members and causing economic harm to communities, work site raids accomplish very little, she said.

'(The Bush administration) has looked very tough but not had a very dramatic impact on the undocumented workers in the United States,' Waslin said.

'The fact remains we have bad laws and enforcing bad laws is not the solution.'