Audit or Arrest?

Rep. Lamar Smith, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and immigration-enforcement stalwart, wheedled updated statistics out of DHS and found that, in the words of the Washington Times story:

Criminal arrests, administrative arrests, indictments and convictions of illegal immigrants at work sites all fell by more than 50 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009.

And note that Obama's crowd didn't take over until after the first third of FY 2009, so the numbers are likely to fall even further next year. At a DHS conference on immigration yesterday for employers, J-Nap's comments made it clear that she would permit no illegals to be arrested at worksites — only Americans (employers) would be arrested, if even that.

William Riley, Former ICE Agent,
Explains Employer Audits:
View the Full Interview

At the same time, the administration is hyping its new worksite enforcement strategy of auditing firms' personnel files and requiring illegal employees to be fired. Two of the highest-profile incidents were American Apparel, an L.A. firm headed by outspoken amnesty proponent (and Canadian immigrant) Dov Charney, which had to fire one-quarter of its workers; and ABM Industries, which had to fire 1,200 of its employees in Minnesota. In addition, where there's proof that employers knew of the illegal status, ICE issues (small) fines.

I share the frustration of some immigration hawks that audits can't replace arrests; one retired ICE agent, speaking to Minnesota Public Radio, asked "Why give people an opportunity to leave the employment without taking any action against them as individuals?" In fact, this kind of employer-only enforcement sends a not-so-subtle message that illegal workers are not morally responsible for their actions (including multiple felonies).

Be that as it may, a widespread and sustained campaign of audits of firms likely to employ lots of illegals is better than nothing. Especially for big firms, the disruption of work and the unwanted attention will be a powerful incentive to enroll in E-Verify (and the Social Security Number Matching System and the Image Program) to make sure they screen out illegals from their work force. But that will only happen if employers (and illegal aliens) are persuaded that the pressure will not abate; otherwise, it'll just be the latest political stunt from Washington, and if you keep your head down for a while, it'll pass.

The audit strategy is a reprise of a Clinton-era effort tried one time at Nebraska's meatpacking plants and then discontinued. The employers and politicians were so crazed at the sucess of the initiative that they got Janet Reno to fire the INS official who came up with the idea. It shows how much things have changed that this strategy, so controversial ten years ago, is now touted by the open-borders crowd as their answer to the evil Bush-era policy (at least at the very end of the Bush term) of actually arresting illegal aliens and sanctioning employers. And the only reason the debate has shifted so much is that the political class didn't get its amnesty and was forced to get progessively more serious about enforcement. If we keep denying them amnesty, maybe they'll eventually start enforcing the law in earnest.