- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - A shift by the federal government to make employers the primary target of immigration raids is not an effort to provide unofficial amnesty, a top immigration official said Thursday

Marcy Forman, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigations office told a House panel that unauthorized workers will be “appropriately dealt with.”

“The secretary is committed to going after the employer who engages in criminal activity,” she said.

Forman said work-site immigration raids are not being delayed, but are being reviewed to determine whether there is enough evidence to target employers.

Republican Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-Ky., said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to announce soon the administration’s protocol for work-site raids and he expressed concerns.

“I’m nervous that the department is making a big change in policy,” said Rogers, who is the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee. “I hope you can prove me wrong. I pray that I’m wrong.”

Some immigration and Latino advocates have been calling for a halt to immigration raids. Those who support tough immigration laws allege undocumented workers will be allowed to continue to work illegally.

Democrats acknowledged a change on raid policies is in the works.

“I suspect this administration at a minimum is going to say, ‘Let’s be more humane about what we do,’” said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.

The administration is adding immigration and customs agents to the border to help curb the flow of arms and cash into Mexico. Some Republicans worry the border buildup will come at the expense of crackdowns on people in the country illegally.

Early in the hearing, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., tried to quash reports that the release of workers arrested in a Bellingham, Wash., plant raid signaled a change in the administration’s handling of illegal immigrants.

Napolitano has ordered a review of the March 24 raid on Yamato Engine Specialists in Bellingham, the first under the Obama administration.

Twenty-four workers were arrested and given temporary permission to work while they assist in an ongoing investigation, Price said. Three others were released for humanitiarian purposes, and a fourth agreed to leave the country. Forman said a search warrant was executed on that same plant Thursday morning. She did not provide details.

Forman said releasing the immigrants and allowing them to work is in keeping with decades-long law enforcement practices. They must check in regularly with ICE agents and were given background checks, she said.

Also in the hearing:

_ The panel admonished ICE to make arresting immigrants who commit crimes a higher priority. Price said that ICE deportations of non-criminals have risen 400 percent and criminal deportations have gone up only 60 percent since 2002.

_ Michael Aytes, acting deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said use of a “I-9 form,” given to employees to verify they can legally work in the U.S., begins Friday. Expired documents will no longer be accepted as proof of work eligibility.

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