President Obama Continues Aggressive Enforcement Strategy

According to the NY Times, President Obama has not moderated his predecessor’s aggressive worksite enforcement program, and with an absence of evidence that he intends to push forward comprehensive immigration reform, he is antagonizing his erstwhile Hispanic supporters.

There has been a recent flurry of tough immigration enforcement actions by the administration.  These include audits of businesses’ employment authorization documentation, expansion of a flawed online employment verification program, bolstering of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement officials and the rejection of legally binding rules governing conditions in immigration detention facilities.

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, argues that these stringent measures are necessary to win the backing for comprehensive immigration reform to legalize the millions of undocumented workers in the US.  The administration claims that President Obama hopes to advance such legislation this year or early next year.

The administration has reduced its number of factory raids and round-up of undocumented workers.  However, Federal criminal prosecutions for immigration violations are up 32% from April 2008 to April 2009.  Ms. Napolitano has sought to be less heavy-handed than the Bush Administration and has focused immigration enforcement on illegal immigrant gangs and and convicts and employers that routinely hire undocumented workers and exploit them.

Immigration officials have increased Form I-9 audits of businesses and more than 600 businesses nationwide have so far been subject to them.  An employer can be criminally liable for a pattern and practice of employment of unauthorized individuals.

Ms. Napolitano has expanded the use of E-Verify, a federal program that allows employers to electronically verify the work authorization of their workers.  However, the system is still problem-ridden and resulted in false denials of 19,000 people.

Also, Ms. Napolitano has strengthened the relationship between federal and state and local law enforcement officials under Section 287(g).  Critics note that there are no protections against ethnic profiling under this law.  In addition, Ms. Napolitano did not terminate the relationship between federal officials and the Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, Joe Arpaio, known as the toughest sheriff in the US, whom Latino Groups have accused of harassing Latinos.

According to Immigration Law Professor Michael Olivas of the University of Houston, without comprehensive immigration reform, which is sorely needed to bolster our nation’s interests, the continuing tough enforcement initiatives against undocumented workers renders the US mired in the “worst of all worlds.”