Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop mass workplace raids targeting illegal immigrants.
In a memo, Mayorkas said the Biden administration would instead focus on pursuing employers who hire and take advantage of immigrants without work authorizations, rather than the employees, Axios first reported Tuesday.
DHS said in the memo it’s also considering options to offer protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants who witness or are victims of “abusive or exploitable labor practices.”
“We will not tolerate unscrupulous employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities, or impose unsafe working conditions,” Mayorkas said in a statement, according to Axios.
“Employers engaged in illegal acts compel the focus of our enforcement resources. By adopting policies that focus on the most unscrupulous employers, we will protect workers as well as legitimate American businesses,” the statement read.
The memo noted the illegal acts are those “ranging from the payment of substandard wages to imposing unsafe working conditions and facilitating human trafficking and child exploitation.”
And, the memo added, the practices harm all workers because “by exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market.”
He called for an immediate end to workplace raids like the one in Mississippi in 2019 that reportedly led to the arrest of nearly 700 people.
“These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations,” Mayorkas wrote.
He also called for Homeland Security agencies to right away begin to exercise discretion when prosecuting illegal immigrants who come forward to report exploitation or illegal practices.
The policy direction echoes similar efforts by the Clinton and Obama administrations, though the proposed new policies would move beyond previous administrations in shielding immigrant workers from prosecution, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Under President Bill Clinton, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a precursor to the Department of Homeland Security, agreed not to try to deport someone who came forward with a labor complaint. The Obama administration took a further step, ending immigration raids on workplaces in favor of pursuing employers committing immigration violations through audits, The New York Times reported at the time.
DHS is asking ICE, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Customs and Border Protection to submit plans within 60 days for the agencies to address employers’ abusive treatment of immigrant employees.