WASHINGTON - U.S. officials increased workplace raids in the first full fiscal year under the Trump administration, leading to the arrests of thousands of undocumented workers, while the number of indicted managers remained on par with the figure from 2017.
The agency tasked with carrying on the investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reported data Tuesday for fiscal 2018 showing its agents:
— Opened 6,848 worksite investigations, compared with 1,691 in fiscal 2017.
— Arrested 2,304 people, compared with 311 in FY2017.
Investigations led to the indictments of 72 managers and the convictions of 49, compared with 71 and 55 the year before, indicating a slightly higher success rate in prosecuting managers in FY2017 (77 percent) versus FY2018 (68 percent).
The annual data came days after a New York Times report alleging a hotel and golf club in New Jersey owned and frequently visited by U.S. President Donald Trump, employs undocumented workers.
Trump has focused much of his administration's nearly two years in power on significantly changing the U.S. immigration system — mainly, arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants and whittling the U.S. refugee and asylum programs in the name of "national security."
"Reducing illegal employment helps build another layer of border security, and reduces the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates, from the human smuggling networks that facilitate illegal border crossings to the associated collateral crimes, like identity theft, document and benefit fraud, and worker exploitation," said Derek N. Benner, executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations at ICE.
The agency reported earlier this year that it was carrying out an increased number of investigations, so the surge came with something of a warning.
But America's Voice, which documents reports of large worksite immigration raids on its blog, highlights how workers' families can be caught off guard.
In Paris, Texas, Hildebrando Torres Jimenez told The Texas Tribune he feared for his daughters, both U.S. citizens, after his arrest at work.
Despite the disparity between the number of employees facing legal consequences and their employers and business owners being charged, businesses were ordered to pay more than $10.2 million in judicial fines, forfeitures and restitution, and another $10.2 million in civil penalties in FY2018, according to ICE.
There are procedures available for businesses to verify workers' documentation. However, some employees get by with fake or stolen authorizations, while in other cases, managers turn a blind eye to the issue in favor of maintaining their workforce.
In September, for example, James Brantley pleaded guilty of tax fraud, wire fraud and employment of unauthorized immigrants at his Bean Station, Tenn., slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant. Ninety-seven of his employees were detained in the raid.