News: INS IS SCALING BACK ITS WORKPLACE RAIDS

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Subject: News: INS IS SCALING BACK ITS WORKPLACE RAIDS
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Jan 20 1999 - 14:07:01 EST


We will have to see what happens with this!

INS IS SCALING BACK ITS WORKPLACE RAIDS
By Douglas Holt, Tribune Staff Writer
Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1999

With unemployment at a nearly three-decade low and American businesses
struggling to find workers, federal authorities have quietly backed away
from what once was a high-profile tool to discourage illegal immigration:
regular workplace raids.

   In a dramatic but little-known shift in policy, the federal Immigration
and Naturalization Service says it has redefined its mission, deciding
instead to focus on halting immigrant-smuggling rings and employers who
exploit workers. At the same time, a budget battle in Washington has
severely constricted money available for INS investigations nationwide.

   The bottom line: INS workplace raids of all types have practically
halted, a situation that some critics say effectively gives businesses an
unofficial pass to hire undocumented immigrants.

   For years, such hiring has been a clandestine practice that put
immigrants in jeopardy of deportation and employers at risk of financial loss.

   Two years ago, the INS on average was raiding at least one Chicago-area
business a week to search for undocumented workers. But a raid Wednesday
that netted arrests of nine undocumented cooks, dishwashers and busboys at
the Paragon Restaurants in Oak Lawn and Crestwood was the first since May.

   Immigration officials insist that the recent pullback should not be
interpreted as a green light for employers to hire illegal workers, at a
time when unemployment stands at a 29-year low. But privately, they
acknowledge that their previous efforts have failed.

   "The INS lost its way with respect to work site enforcement," said an
agency official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We got
caught up in a numbers game, as if the numbers were a valid gauge of how
effective employer sanctions were. It's the old body-count concept."

   Meanwhile, the official said, even if Congress increased the raid budget
fivefold, "it would take 40 years to remove the employable undocumented
aliens in the U.S."

   The on-again, off-again workplace raids have angered both immigration
advocates and opponents.

   "We play with immigrants pretty much according to our economic
interests," said Maricela Garcia, executive director of the Illinois
Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.

   "Undocumented people work for low wages, and it's productive," she said.
"When the economy is good as ours is now, everyone turns their heads. If
there's a turnaround of the economy, I think then we're going to find
scapegoats again, and it will be immigrants."

   Joseph Daleiden, executive director of the Midwest Coalition for
Immigration Reform, a group that advocates stricter immigration laws, said
pulling back on workplace raids sends the wrong message.

   "It clearly says we're not serious about illegals," he said. "Word's
going to get out real fast in the illegal community that it's very easy to
come to the U.S. and get a job."

   But some businesses that have been raided by the INS said the policy
change makes sense because there aren't enough workers to keep the economy
humming.

   "We'd be happy to hire people that live here and are naturalized
citizens, but either they don't want the work or they've got jobs," said
Paul Eldredge, Midwest president of Wadsworth Golf Construction Co. in
Plainfield.

   Last year, the INS raided and fined the golf-course builder $15,000
after finding about 50 workers who had obtained their jobs with phony
immigration documents.

   "If you can sit at a desk and make $8 an hour, or can dig a ditch and
make $8 an hour, you take the desk job," Eldredge said. "This is pretty
hard work."

   The peak year for workplace raids was the federal budget year that ended
Sept. 30, 1997. Nationwide, INS agents arrested more than 19,000 illegal
workers, almost all of whom were sent back to their home countries. Last
budget year, the number declined to about 16,500.

   But since an estimated 5.5 million undocumented immigrants live in the
United States, about 4 million of employable age, workplace raids barely
made a dent in the employment of illegal workers, officials acknowledge.

   "Yeah, I arrest a whole bunch of illegal aliens. So what?" said Brian
Perryman, the INS district director in Chicago. He argued that it is better
to pursue kingpins in illegal immigration and incidents in which immigrants
have been exploited. "Every law enforcement agency that I know of sets
priorities. They can't arrest every violator," he said.

   In the 1997 budget year, INS agents conducted 66 raids in the Chicago
area, resulting in the arrests of 1,333 undocumented workers. The following
year brought 27 raids and 517 arrests.

   In the current fiscal year, which started in October, the Chicago
District of the INS has conducted only one workplace raid, at the Paragon
Restaurants, which came less than a week after the Tribune had inquired
about the lack of raids.

   Perryman said the dropoff in raids would be compensated for by an
escalation of investigations requiring wiretaps, surveillance, search
warrants and other more complicated techniques.

   "You need to wait and see the change in focus," he said.

   Workplace raids became a hot issue as their frequency increased, drawing
protests from activists and even some lawmakers.

   A raid on onion pickers in Vidalia, Ga., at the height of the $90
million harvest last May sparked complaints from Sen. Paul Coverdell and
Rep. Jack Kingston, both Georgia Republicans. Kingston, in particular, had
been a proponent of tough anti-immigration laws in 1996.

   But when the laws began to affect their own constituents, the lawmakers,
along with several others, complained in a joint letter to Atty. Gen. Janet
Reno and other officials of a "lack of regard for farmers" and
"intimidation tactics" used by federal agents.

   In April, Miami Mayor Alex Penelas accused the INS of using "Men in
Black" tactics during a raid on a Miami flower wholesaler. Penelas and
several immigration advocates accused federal agents of shoving and
shouting at workers, treating them, as the mayor said, like "a herd of cows."

   Meanwhile, despite a record $3.95 billion budget--more than double the
budget in 1993--the INS has issued directives calling for drastic cutbacks
in funds for investigations.

   A Dec. 31 memo by Robert Douglas, assistant regional director for INS
investigations, said the investigative budget for the central region, which
includes Illinois, had been slashed by 90 percent. One central region INS
official told the Tribune that his office had been ordered to suspend
arrests of legal immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies. Under the
1996 immigration law, they are subject to deportation.

   Jeffrey Weber, INS associate commissioner for the budget in Washington,
described the cutbacks as temporary and subject to further negotiation. So
far, INS officials in Chicago have ignored the cuts and are spending at
last year's levels.

   INS officials in Washington blamed the cuts on a $100 million shortfall
in personnel appropriations from Congress, a $10 million settlement in a
labor dispute and a 31 percent increase in agency rent and telephone costs.

   But while some INS officials think the agency will eventually get more
money, others aren't taking any chances. In an internal Jan. 6 memo,
William Glinka, head of INS investigations in the eastern U.S., said his
program is running a $1 million deficit.

   "We are broke. Period," he wrote to his staff.

   To save money, he told investigators that there would be no money
available to buy phony documents as part of investigations, no payments to
informants and no travel for regional staff. He added that agency cellular
telephones had been "locked up" and that the agency couldn't afford to pay
interpreters to communicate with INS detainees.

   "Try to work with local colleges to see if some students would like to
help us out," he wrote.

Melanie Orhant

Co-Director
Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590
Email: morhant@igc.org
www.globalsurvival.net


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