ICE Targets Employers Who Follow the Law
Friday, July 03, 2009 at 1:16 pm
The $150,000 in fines so far charged to Los Angeles clothing maker American Apparel for allegedly employing illegal immigrants may be a welcome change from the notorious factory raids by federal agents that led to hundreds of jailed and deported employees. As The New York Times reported on Friday, it suggests a shift in strategy on the part of immigration officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
But it still doesn’t explain why the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, after promising to crack down on employers who illegally hire immigrants and treat them as slave labor, is going after a company that starts its low-skilled workers at $10 – $12 an hour plus health benefits — far above the legal minimum wage. The government hasn’t even alleged that the company knowingly hired undocumented workers, only that an audit of its records shows that about a third of the workers might not be legal and may have shown fake documents when they were hired.
If the workers can’t now prove legal employment status, they’ll be fired and possibly deported.
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) encouraged the DHS to be “tough” on employers who hire illegal immigrants. But he seems ill-informed about just who those employers are and what they’re doing.
“If this is a truly conscientious effort to get tough with employers to say the days are over of profiteering with illegal immigrants, that’s fine,” he told Julia Preston of the Times. “But if the fine will be so low that it’s just part of doing business, there’s no deterrent.”
But it turns out American Apparel is not profiteering off illegal immigrants — just the opposite. It seems to be paying a fair and living wage and benefits to whoever comes to work there and can show proof of legal work authorization.
Technically, DHS can go after any employer it wants who may have hired someone with false papers. But targeting a model company providing low-skilled and immigrant workers a chance to earn an honest living wage doesn’t really seem to be the best use of scarce resources.
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