BY MACKENZIE MAYS
The Fresno Bee
Fresno Congressman Jim Costa is urging federal immigration agents to cut back on workplace audits, saying they will have a “severe and disproportionate” impact on agricultural communities in the Valley.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement leadership vowed last year to do “four to five times” more investigations of businesses that hire undocumented workers. In recent months, Fresno-area farming companies have received notices from ICE that their employee records will be audited, leading to dozens of workers to lose their jobs.
In a letter sent Wednesday to ICE Director Thomas Homan, Costa said that he recently met with ICE leaders to ask them to re-prioritize, but he was told that businesses can expect an increased level of audits for the foreseeable future.
“Increasing I-9 audits will only divert ICE resources from other critical enforcement priorities. Instead of tracking down human traffickers, investigating terrorists or apprehending members of transnational criminal organizations, ICE would send armed agents to businesses around the country to search for employment paperwork irregularities,” Costa, D-Fresno, said in the letter.
Last year, ICE conducted 1,360 employee audits nationwide and made 139 subsequent criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests, according to an agency spokeswoman who confirmed that agents have been instructed to increase those inspections.
"ICE is the federal agency responsible for enforcing these laws, which were set up to protect jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, and to eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce," ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said in an email Friday. "ICE’s worksite enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor and other illegal practices.”
But Costa said ICE resources can be better spent, pointing to drug and sex trafficking rings in the San Joaquin Valley that “too often target immigrants and their children,” and to $100,000 worth of heroin seized by Fresno police last year that had possible Mexican cartel connections.
“Stopping this type of activity requires strategic and sophisticated interior immigration enforcement,” Costa said. “ICE should focus its limited resources on hardened criminals who are harming our communities, not hard-working individuals who are positively contributing to our communities.”