Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are continuing the business of cracking down on undocumented immigrant workers and the employers that hire them. The latest targets of federal immigration audits are businesses in the Los Angeles area.
The Los Angeles Times reports that after a five-day operation that ended Thursday, ICE issued audit notices to more than 120 businesses.
The audits are said to have dual purposes: ICE wants to punish employers and employees who are breaking immigration rules, as well as discourage others from entering the country unlawfully.
ICE spokeswoman Dani Bennett told the Times: “It’s a deterrent to somebody who is thinking about crossing the border, paying a smuggler and taking that perilous journey. If there isn’t that pull factor or perceived easy employment on the other side, there isn’t that incentive to cross in the first place.”
The Trump administration “has vowed to crack down hard on illegal immigration,” the Times states, as well as on states like California that provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
In October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the sanctuary state bill into law, after which acting ICE Director Thomas Hoffman warned that California “better hold on tight.”
ICE is now making good on its threat.
According to ICE, it completed 1,360 audits in the U.S. during fiscal year 2017. ICE officials said that the audits could lead to civil fines and criminal prosecutions if employers are found guilty of breaking the law.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has warned businesses that breaking the law can result in a $10,000 fine.
From the Times:
Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Association, told the Times that operations like recent sweeps of 7-Eleven stores unfairly target one type of business while giving others a pass. One of the group’s members, a tortilla factory, also received notice about an ICE visit, and 15 employees did not show up to work, she said.
“Why would you target a tortilla manufacturer? Because you think you’re going to find more people to deport,” Toccoli said.
Jennifer Reyes, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles, told the Times that ICE is trying to strike a balance with the audits. The fines that it charges businesses are heavy enough to take away from their profits, but not so steep that companies are facing closure.
The ultimate goal, according to ICE, is to prevent employers from hiring immigrants who did not come into the country through legal channels.