In the largest single-day roundup of undocumented workers in U.S. history, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided six work sites in Mississippi last week, arresting 680 workers. Yet, so far, not a single employer has been arrested. Republican members of Congress should be as outraged as their Democratic counterparts, who are demanding to know why employers aren’t being held accountable.
President Donald Trump’s strategy seems to focus on capturing and expelling as many undocumented workers as possible ahead of the 2020 election, as if get-tough images of workplace arrests and frightened families would win him the votes he needs. But his hands-off policy toward the employers who enable and encourage such migrants tells an entirely different story about Trump’s supposed immigration solutions. It is a story of unabashed hypocrisy.
The driving force behind the immigration problem is jobs. Immigrants aren’t swarming across the border for the sunny beaches and beautiful mountain vistas. They’re coming for the combination of a safe haven for their children and work to put food in their bellies. In most cases, employers hire them to perform low-paying and odious tasks, like processing chickens, that Americans won’t do.
It takes two people to violate the law under such circumstances: the migrant who knows he or she is not allowed to work in this country, and any employer who hires such people without verifying their legal status. The Trump administration is obsessed with the former but seems not terribly concerned about punishing the latter. Why is that?
One possible explanation is that Trump’s own businesses have hired undocumented immigrants. One employee who went public in protest of Trump’s immigration policies was Victorina Morales, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who made Trump’s bed at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J. The White House was so satisfied with her work it issued her a certificate of appreciation last year.
Employers in businesses such as hotel staffing, roofing, fruit-picking, landscaping and restaurant services are fully aware that they’d go out of business without having backdoor access to these workers. As long as they can credibly claim ignorance about the legal status of their workers, federal law gives them plenty of wiggle room to evade justice. The law imposes a high bar on prosecutors to prove that employers knew of workers’ illegal status but hired them anyway.
Two of the Mississippi chicken-processing plants are owned by a Chinese man who federal authorities believe was fully aware of his worker’s status. Others, such as industry giant Koch Foods, say they use the federal e-Verify system to authenticate workers’ legal employment status, which is mandatory in Mississippi.
Clearly, the system didn’t work — a symptom of an overall broken immigration system. Trump is under the illusion that the only fix is by wrecking workers’ lives and destroying their livelihoods, while leaving their employers free to hire the next migrant who comes along.