President Obama took office vowing to go after unscrupulous employers who hire illegal immigrants, but worksite audits have plunged over the last year and a half, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Immigration Studies, tumbling along with the rest of immigration enforcement.
Fewer owners are being arrested, and fewer fines are being collected as well, according to the report, which suggests that even as he offers amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Mr. Obama is giving a similar free pass to ever more businesses who provide the jobs magnet that draws them.
Through the first five months of this fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted just 181 workplace audits and brought charges against only 27 employers, putting it on pace for fewer than 500 audits and just 65 arrests this year. That’s less than 15 percent of the total audits conducted in 2013.
“Employers now face very little risk in hiring illegal workers and have little incentive to abide by the law,” wrote the report author, Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the center.
Mr. Obama’s administration early on stopped the Bush administration practice of workplace raids, which rounded up illegal immigrants — and which advocacy groups deemed too traumatic for the immigrants and their families.
Instead, the Obama administration began what became known as “virtual raids” — audits of paperwork, to figure out if a business was hiring illegal workers. Done right, it can be effective, Ms. Vaughan said, and it produced results at the beginning of Mr. Obama’s tenure.
But over the last year and a half, even the virtual raids have slowed, and so have arrests and fines, Ms. Vaughan found.
ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said the agency is still trying to do worksite enforcement.
“In addition to criminal prosecutions, we continue to fine employers who hire an illegal workforce,” she said.
Indeed, ICE secured more indictments of business managers in 2014 than any other year of the Obama administration, with 194, and earned convictions in 176 cases.
The indictments have dropped dramatically so far in 2015, though, to just 39 for the first eight and a half months of the fiscal year.
Polls show Americans overwhelmingly want to see a crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, including requiring mandatory use of E-Verify, the government’s currently voluntary program that allows businesses to check their hires’ work authorization.
A 2013 Gallup poll found 85 percent of Americans supported businesses using E-Verify.
But the Obama administration has been reluctant to move ahead with that policy, saying that while it backs the program, it should only be mandatory if it’s coupled with a full immigration reset that legalizes most current illegal immigrants. That would create a do-over for businesses and immigrants alike.
Some states have moved ahead on their own, insisting some or all businesses use the program.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, last week signed legislation requiring state agencies to check workers through E-Verify.