Thursday, April 20, 2006

More style than substance: Homeland Security unveils tougher immigration enforcement policy

Just days before the Senate is to reconvene to resume hammering out a new policy on immigration, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff announced today not only a new policy on tougher enforcement aimed at employers who hire undocumented worker, but also the apprehension yesterday of 1,187 undocumented workers in the "largest single worksite enforcement operation against a company in American history."

In a nationwide operation that encompassed 26 states, agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement swept down on 40 locations of Amsterdam-based IFCO Systems, one of the nations largest supplier of pallets and reusable plastic containers for retail customers.

(more below the fold)

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… searches and search warrants were conducted at locations in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Virginia and Utah.

The arrests and search warrants are part of an ongoing criminal investigation of IFCO’s Pallet Management Services division that began more than a year ago. The investigation is being conducted by ICE, New York State Police - Upstate New York Regional Intelligence Center, Social Security Administration Inspector General, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, and the Department of Labor Inspector General. The Guilderland Town Police Department and Schenectady Police Department also provided assistance.

According to a government affidavit filed in the Northern District of New York, the investigation began in February 2005 when ICE agents received information that IFCO workers in Guilderland, NY, were witnessed ripping up their W-2 tax forms and that an IFCO assistant general manager had explained that these workers were illegal aliens, had fake Social Security cards and did not intend to file tax returns.

According to the affidavit, subsequent investigation indicated that IFCO officials transported illegal aliens to and from work; paid rent for the housing of illegal alien employees; and deducted money from the aliens’ monthly paychecks to cover these expenses. Former IFCO employees also said it was common practice for IFCO to hire workers who lacked social security cards or produced bogus identification cards.

The affidavit also alleges that IFCO officials knowingly hired an illegal alien who was an informant for ICE. In numerous recorded conversations, IFCO officials reimbursed this person for obtaining fraudulent identity documents for other illegal alien employees; used the person to recruit other illegal workers; and advised the person and other illegal alien employees on how to avoid law enforcement detection, the affidavit alleges.

The affidavit further alleges that approximately 53.4 percent of the Social Security numbers contained on the IFCO Systems North America Inc. payroll of roughly 5,800 workers during 2005 were either invalid, did not match the true name registered with the Social Security Administration for that number, or belonged to children or deceased persons. The Social Security Administration sent at least 13 written notifications to IFCO headquarters about such discrepancies on its payroll records in 2004 and 2005, the affidavit alleges.

Department of Homeland Security

In addition to the undocumented workers, officials filed criminal charges against seven lower-level managers and a foreman for conspiring to transport, harbor, and induce illegal immigrants to come to the United States, charges that carry maximum sentences of up to 10 years in jail.

Wednesday's raids were timed as part of an announcement today by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to tout a "comprehensive" national strategy for dealing with employers of undocumented immigrants. The tough talking Chertoff announced that the government is looking at organizations that promote the "harboring and hiring" of undocumented workers, and that those organizations will be viewed "in the same way we look at other criminal organizations."… "And that means that what we're focused on is not just individual cases involving a single violator here or a single violator there, but actually looking at those people who adopt, as a business model, the systematic violation of United States law." and it is his aim to "come down as hard as possible and break the back" of those organizations.

The fact that Wednesday's raids resulted in more apprehensions in one day than the total number of immigration violators arrested in all of 2005 and that the number of criminal employer cases presented for prosecution dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, Chertoff's actual willingness and ability to follow through is in doubt

To combat such practices, Mr. Chertoff and Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement, said they plan to hire 171 additional worksite enforcement agents and have asked Congress for legal authority to routinely get access to Social Security records so the department can more easily identify companies where there are large numbers of apparently fake numbers submitted by new hires.

Separately, the department is adding 20 additional special teams of investigators — creating a total of 52 of these teams — to search for some of the 590,000 immigrants in the country who have ignored orders to leave.

It also is working with state and local officials to try to identify and if possible deport a large share of the estimated 630,000 foreign-born individuals who are arrested on criminal charges and put into jail.

New York Times

Although Secretary Chertfoff announcement heralds what he described as a new "comprehensive" enforcement policy, the timing of the raids raises some serious questions.

With the Congress coming back next Monday to resume it's debate on immigration reform, those from both sides of that debate see Chertoffs actions as little more than a publicity stunt.

Michael W. Cutler, a former federal immigration enforcement agent and fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that supporters tougher immigration laws, said that Mr. Chertoff's announcement was more about public relations than substance.

"All they are doing is hanging window dressing on a building that is condemned," he said.

Even with the additional agents the department has asked Congress to hire, it will still have far too few agents enforcing immigration laws, he said, given the millions of illegal immigrants in the country and the thousands of companies that employ them.


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) criticized the timing of the Homeland Security's announcement, calling it "a photo-op crackdown."

"For five years, the Bush Administration has failed to secure America's borders and enforce our laws," said Reid in a statement. "A photo-op crackdown by its Homeland Security Agency to prove a political point won't erase its failed record.

"Americans know our country needs a real change. President Bush must stand up to the radical right wing of his party and stop Republicans from filibustering tough, comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform," Reid added.

Besides the obvious political message Chertoff was trying to send, immigrant activists see the crackdown as a method to try to stem the burgeoning immigrants rights movement.

Angry immigrants' rights activists staged a rally and march in front of the federal Immigration office downtown Thursday.

Several activists called the raids on more than 40 IFCO Systems facilities, including one in Chicago, a coordinated response to the pro-immigration rallies of recent weeks.

Roberto Lopez of Centro Sin Fronteras, in Wicker Park, calls it an attempt at intimidation.

"The national raids have separated families, have destroyed lives, and have traumatized children across this country," he said. "And it's undeniable that these raids were timed right after the historic marches and demonstrations


Those who rallied and marched in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office said they refused to be "intimidated," and are going forward with plans for a May 1 rally and march from Union Park, on the near West Side.

The protesters want a halt to the threatened crackdown while the immigration policy debate continues in Congress, and called on members of the Illinois congressional delegation to put pressure on Chertoff and the White House. They also called for the release of the 25 arrested locally without having to post bond

WBBM Chicago

Like the building of the wall along the border, minutemen patrols, and the calls for mass deportations, Chertoff''s raids and claims of a crackdown have far more to do with political theater and jockeying for position than any real solutions to the problems that face US immigration policy. Until the grandstanding and demagoguery stop, no real comprehensive solution will ever be reached for the 12 million undocumented workers here, the employers who hire them or the general population who rely on their labor.


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