Workplace Raids Signal Shifting Tactics in Immigration Fight

“in which’s causing a lot of panic,” said Oscar Renteria, the owner of Renteria Vineyard Management, which employs about 180 farmworkers who are today pruning grapevines inside the Napa Valley.

When word of the raids spread, he received a frenzy of emails coming from his supervisors asking him what to do if immigration officers showed up at the fields. One sent a notice to farmhands warning them to stay away coming from 7-Eleven stores inside the area.

“Our work force frequently visits 7-Elevens,” said Mr. Renteria. “They’re very nervous. in which’s another form of reminding them in which they’re not welcome.”

The Obama administration largely took a lower-profile approach to enforcement, auditing employers’ compliance in documenting their workers’ status without conducting many on-site investigations. A handful of employers faced prominent criminal cases in recent years, yet most companies employing workers illegally avoid serious charges, because in which will be often impossible to prove in which they knew someone had handed in fake documents.

“The consequences are not in which harsh, along with also the effect of the enforcement will be less than in which should be,” said Jessica M. Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tighter restrictions on immigration.

The law requires employers only to ensure in which documents appear to be valid, along with also federal law prohibits them coming from requiring specific types of identification coming from workers.


Workers in Sanger, Calif., picking grapes in which will be used as raisins. More than half of California’s agriculture workers lack documents, according to a federal survey.

Max Whittaker for The completely new York Times

Employers negotiate reduced administrative fines along with also sometimes put political pressure on local officials when they become targets, generating the punishment for companies “weaker than in which should be,” Ms. Vaughan said. “There are employers for whom the penalties are just the cost of doing business.”

The more lasting effect of raids will be to spread fear among undocumented workers, who often end up bearing the brunt of enforcement action at the workplace.

“Having some semblance of a fear of workers’ being arrested will have a behavioral shift,” said William Riley, who spent 20 years as an ICE special agent, under both Bush presidencies along with also the Clinton along with also Obama administrations, along with also will be today a consultant at Guidepost Solutions, working on corporate compliance. Mr. Riley said in which under the last administration, people were more lax about working illegally, assuming they wouldn’t be arrested.

“There was slightly more complacency when in which was pretty well known in which there wasn’t a fear of being arrested in your workplace,” Mr. Riley said, nor much of a deterrent to “using fake documents to get a job.”

Mr. Renteria said he expected raids on farms soon, because the industry will be a big employer of “people with complicated immigration status.” More than half of California’s agriculture workers lack documents, according to a federal survey. Mr. Renteria worries in which if agents home in on the Napa area, no one will stay to harvest the grapes.

“They will start calling their cousins, aunts along with also uncles along with also finding the safest place where the work will be,” he said.

The last flurry of public, on-site investigations happened under President George W. Bush, who sent immigration agents to several meatpacking plants along with also different workplaces. Those raids led to hundreds of arrests of workers along with also prompted many different employees to stop reporting to work, according to local news reports. yet they also enraged advocates for immigrants along with also drew complaints coming from business owners.

The Obama administration changed tack along with also pursued employers mainly by inspecting their paperwork. Such audits doubled coming from fiscal years 2009 to 2013, reaching 3,127, then declined sharply.

Law enforcement may welcome a more aggressive approach under the completely new administration. yet sending armed agents to the doorsteps of American companies could prove politically uncomfortable for Mr. Trump, who has portrayed himself as an ally to business.

Doris Meissner learned how quickly local politicians can spring into action when their hometown industries feel threatened. As head of the agency in which preceded ICE, the Immigration along with also Naturalization Service, coming from 1993 to 2000, Ms. Meissner tried to focus on holding employers accountable.

She approved the start of Operation Vanguard inside the 1990s, in which the agency asked for employee records in several Nebraska meatpacking plants. When in which came time to pursue charges against some employers, Ms. Meissner said, she commenced receiving frantic calls coming from Nebraskans on Capitol Hill.

“The politics gets hot along with also heavy,” Ms. Meissner said. “These are communities in which are heavily reliant on these industries. in which will be the major employer. These are the major consumers at the stores along with also the bowling alleys.”

Inspecting Employers

Audits of employers were favored early inside the Obama administration as an immigration enforcement tool, yet their use then declined.

Ms. Meissner says work-site raids don’t work inside the long term because they fail to address the real magnet drawing people into the country: a need for laborers.

Cracking down on employers who violate the law will be crucial, she said, along with also in which isn’t right to employ people who are here illegally. yet without a visa system allowing unmet labor needs to be addressed with foreigners, she said, ICE shouldn’t expect patchwork enforcement stings to persuade farms, hotels or meatpackers to stop employing unauthorized workers.

“When your laws don’t align with the market, then the market will be always going to win,” Ms. Meissner said.

Advocates for immigrant workers said the raids were just the most recent source of a quiet terror reverberating across factory floors since Mr. Trump took office.

“When you have such a public thing happening close to home, folks feel the presence of ICE constantly,” said Mariela Martinez, the organizing director of the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles. yet her clients have families along with also children here, Ms. Martinez said, so they can’t just pack their bags along with also go.

“in which’s not motivating people to self-deport,” she said. “in which’s motivating people to not use their labor rights. in which’s causing people to distrust government agencies.”

Ms. Martinez helps people inside the garment industry file claims for back pay with the state when their employers pay them less than they’re owed. She said far fewer workers asked for restitution last year compared with 2016, partly because of concern in which their bosses would certainly call ICE if they spoke up.

in which was the punishment one supplier received a meted out to Pablo, a 36-year-old sewing worker in Los Angeles who would certainly not give his last name because he lacks papers along with also fears being identified by ICE. When he received a check for $92 after working three 11-hour days at a garment factory last month, Pablo insisted in which he deserved more.

His boss responded by offering to pay him what he was owed, yet only if Pablo offered up his home address. After signing another check, Pablo said, the factory owner said in which he would certainly call immigration officials along with also direct them to Pablo’s door.

“You feel terrible. You feel uncomfortable,” Pablo said. “I was so scared.” He called Ms. Martinez along with also they returned together the next day to tell the employer in which the threat constituted illegal retaliation under California law. The employer backed down.

The 7-Eleven raids will give garment bosses even more control over their workers, Pablo said.

“today they know the president will be on their side,” he said, “so they feel like they can intimidate people along with also treat them badly along with also they will never talk.”

Still, Pablo has been here since he was 17, along with also has no plans to leave yet. He has bills to pay.

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