Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued new orders Tuesday halting ICE from going after large numbers of illegal immigrants at job sites, saying it is a waste of resources and actually helps unscrupulous employers abuse unauthorized workers.
Mr. Mayorkas said he wants his department’s three immigration agencies to come up with new strategies to target employers while leaving the illegal immigrants unscathed.
But those solutions are in the future. For now, he said, “mass worksite operations” must cease.
“The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country’s unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers,” Mr. Mayorkas wrote in a memo announcing the changes.
He also urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to exercise prosecutorial discretion to drop cases against illegal immigrants whom the Labor Department says are victims or witnesses of exploitation in a workplace.
Democrats on Capitol Hill applauded the news, calling it a victory for illegal immigrant workers.
“In America, all workers deserve a workplace that ensures they are treated with basic dignity and respect, and these actions by the administration are an important step in safeguarding the safety and well-being of undocumented workers,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.
Mass worksite arrests, which immigrant rights activists term “raids,” have long been controversial.
Security experts say they are critical to protecting legal workers by making clear to employers and workers that taking jobs while in the country illegally won’t be tolerated.
Immigrant rights advocates counter that the operations disrupt life in the communities where they take place, particularly for children of illegal immigrants who in some cases return home from school to find their parent has been arrested and detained.
Mr. Mayorkas on Tuesday also said employers use threats of arrest to maintain control of illegal immigrant workers and prevent them from blowing the whistle on low wages or unsafe work conditions.
ICE made headlines in 2019 when it served warrants at seven agricultural processing plants in Mississippi, arresting hundreds of illegal immigrants and building a case against some managers and supervisors. It was the largest single-state worksite enforcement action in the nation’s history.
About 680 illegal immigrant workers were arrested — and of those, 403 were working using Social Security numbers stolen from legal residents, ICE said.