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Immigration-Related Worksite Enforcement: Performance Measures

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In the spring of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance on immigration-related worksite enforcement. In the words of DHS, the updated guidance “reflects a renewed Department-wide focus targeting criminal aliens and employers who cultivate illegal workplaces by breaking the country’s laws and knowingly hiring illegal workers.” Under the guidelines, DHS “will use all available civil and administrative tools, including civil fines and debarment, to penalize and deter illegal employment.” According to 2008 estimates, there are some 8.3 million unauthorized workers in the U.S. civilian labor force.

DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for immigration-related worksite enforcement, or enforcement of the prohibitions on unauthorized employment in Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA §274A provisions, sometimes referred to as employer sanctions, make it unlawful for an employer to knowingly hire, recruit or refer for a fee, or continue to employ an alien who is not authorized to be so employed. Today, ICE’s worksite enforcement program is focused primarily on cases that involve critical infrastructure facilities and cases involving employers who commit “egregious violations” of criminal statutes and engage in worker exploitation.

Employers who violate INA prohibitions on the unlawful employment of aliens may be subject to civil monetary penalties and/or criminal penalties. Criminal investigations may result in defendants being charged with crimes beyond unlawful employment and being subject to the relevant penalties for those violations.

Various measures are available to examine the performance of ICE’s worksite enforcement program. They include Final Orders for civil monetary penalties, administrative fines, administrative arrests, criminal arrests, criminal indictments and convictions, and criminal fines and forfeitures. In addition to examining annual changes and trends in the various performance measure data, these data can be considered in relation to the estimated size of the unauthorized workforce or the potential number of employers employing these workers. When considered in this context, ICE’s worksite enforcement program can seem quite limited.

Enforcement activity by the Department of Labor (DOL) is also relevant to a discussion of federal efforts to curtail unauthorized employment. DOL, which is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime pay, and related requirements, focuses a significant percentage of its enforcement resources on a group of low-wage industries that employ large numbers of immigrant—and presumably large numbers of unauthorized—workers.

Related background information can be found in CRS Report RL33973, Unauthorized Employment in the United States: Issues, Options, and Legislation. This report will be updated when new data become available.