Increased ICE Workplace Enforcement in New Jersey
Immigration officials in the last 10 months have levied nearly $640,000 in fines against 13 employers in New Jersey who failed to ensure that their workers were eligible to work in the United States, reports the Newark office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
That amount is about 15 times more than the fines levied in all 12 months of fiscal year 2009, when the total was $44,728, according to ICE data. Four employers were fined then.
The rise in fines in New Jersey far outpaced that of the nation, where $3.8 million in fines were levied against 149 employers since October. That is about three times the $1 million levied against 52 employers in fiscal year 2009. (The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.)
The increase at both state and national levels reflects a new strategy, launched last year, to crack down on illegal immigration by going after employers who hire undocumented workers. The rationale: A key reason people come into the United States illegally is to work, so the most effective way to eliminate that magnet is to go after those who hire them.
Activists on both sides of the issue in New Jersey said they were unaware that worksite enforcement targeting employers had been stepped up.
“I had no idea,” said Diana Mejia of the American Friends Service Committee, which among other things provides assistance to undocumented immigrants. “We need solutions to the immigration system’s flaws; we need to provide a way that people can legalize. It seems we’re choosing sanctions over real solutions. Leaving people without work, without a way to earn a living, is not right.”
But those who support tough enforcement lauded the crackdown.
“It’s a good start,” said Ed Durfee of Northvale. “I don’t want to see people put out of work, but these people shouldn’t be working these jobs. They shouldn’t even be in this country.”
“ICE is focused on building cases against egregious employers,” Harold Ort, spokesman for ICE in Newark, said Wednesday. “ICE isn’t just interested in numbers of arrests, but instead making arrests that count, and creating a culture of voluntary compliance among employers,” Ort added.
“The integrity of their employment records is just as important to the federal government as the integrity of their tax files or banking records,” Ort said.
The audit of employer records is known as a “silent raid,” which draws a contrast to the high-profile, more dramatic workplace raids of the past in which immigration officials rounded up dozens, and in other states sometimes hundreds, of illegal workers. Those arrested in such raids often were detained and then deported, but employers faced few consequences, and sometimes hired other illegal immigrants to replace the ones they had lost.
While it is difficult to know with certainty how many illegal immigrants live in New Jersey and the nation, estimates put the numbers at a minimum of 500,000 in New Jersey, and about 12 million nationwide. An analysis released last year by the Immigration Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, said illegal immigrants make up 9.2 percent of the state’s workforce.
“No industry, regardless of size, type or location, is exempt,” Ort said. The audits involve checking I-9 employment forms, which document a person’s eligibility to work in the United States.
At both the state and national levels, ICE declined to name the businesses.
In this fiscal year, 34 companies in New Jersey were sent audit notices, and 25 received warnings about fines. The possible fines amounted to $1,186,281, according to ICE data.
Initial fines, Ort explained, often are reduced after “working with the companies and any mitigating circumstances are considered.”