This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Stemming illegal immigration will take a comprehensive approach – and that includes crackdowns on employers and employees alike.
A work-site raid at a Bellingham plant this week could be a boon to the cause of immigration reform.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided Yamato Engine Specialists Ltd. on Tuesday, arresting 28 workers and sending most of them to Tacoma’s immigration detention center to await deportation.
But it’s the field agents, not the illegal workers, who are coming under the greatest scrutiny.
The Bellingham raid was the first since President Obama took office and the first since he nominated Janet Napolitano to Homeland Security secretary. Apparently, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers forgot they have new bosses who view immigration enforcement differently than their predecessors.
On Wednesday, Napolitano told Congress that the raid surprised her as much as it did Yamato Engine owners and workers. Napolitano was none too happy about that, given that both she and president have pledged to put more emphasis on going after rogue employers than illegal workers.
Immigrant advocates are eager for Obama to deliver on his pledge to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority. Now, in the face of evidence that the Bush administration’s enforcement regime lives on, they are turning up the heat.
Whatever it takes. U.S. immigration policy is a mess and overdue for an overhaul. The status quo benefits no one – save perhaps the business owners who are able to exploit cheap labor.
People living in the shadows aren’t likely to speak up about safety concerns or wage and hour violations, much less demand better pay. All workers, legal or not, suffer the consequences.
Napolitano says she aims to crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. That would certainly be a more efficient use of government resources.
Unscrupulous companies that promise jobs, no questions asked, fuel illegal immigration. Put them out of business, and you’ve done a lot to stem the traffic through the border’s revolving door.
But the federal government shouldn’t go after scofflaw employers to the exclusion of illegal workers, as some advocacy groups are urging the Obama administration. Work-site raids are undoubtedly more disruptive to communities and families, but used sparingly they remain a useful enforcement tool.
Fixing the broken immigration system will require eliminating the barriers to citizenship and legal status that encourage lawlessness. But the nation – and the nation’s workforce – can ill afford to at the same time reward lawbreakers by looking the other way.