If there were any lingering doubts on whether DHS and ICE were committed to aggressively enforcing immigration laws at the workplace, ICE’s worksite enforcement operation at Howard Industries resulting in almost 600 arrests should eliminate them. The 600 arrests marks the largest historical arrest total at a single worksite, exceeding the recent record of 400 set at Agriprocessors in Iowa just three month ago.

Yes, the 600 arrests in the grand scheme of the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. may seem a speck in the field on immigration control. However, this operation coupled with other recent efforts such as the Agriprocessors raid and last December’s operation at multiple Swift & Co. meat processing plants resulting in over 1,000 arrests clearly defines ICE’s commitment to increased enforcement actions against employers. The numbers for this fiscal year do not disagree with this view. On worksite enforcement, ICE reports that through August of FY 2008, it has:

* Made more than 1,000 criminal arrests tied to worksite enforcement investigations;
* Criminally arrested 116 owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees who now face charges including harboring or knowingly hiring illegal aliens;
* Criminally charged and prosecuted the remaining workers for charges including aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud; and
* Made more than 3,900 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite enforcement operations (now more than 4,500 with the Howard Operation).

The message cannot be more clear that employers should consider themselves fair game in our Nation’s ongoing attempts to grapple with our broken borders and broken immigration system. No longer am I seeing corporate clients merely facing a civil fine after and ICE I-9 audit. Instead, the game has dramatically changed to one of criminal prosecutions and search warrants coupled with dramatic large scale worksite operations that ultimately costs companies goodwill and millions in lost production costs that exceed any possible civil fine.

What is even more impressive is ICE’s commitment of large numbers of Special Agents and Detention Officers and detention bed resources to conduct such operations. It was reported that ICE had been investigating Howard for several years based on tips from union members (a point I will elaborate on in a later entry). Operations requiring the detention and interviewing of potential undocumented workers is intensive, requires time, and can require several hundred ICE agents as demonstrated in the Swift & Co. meat processing raid. And the resource commitment continues when ICE detains individuals as they are processed for removal. In the Howard operation, ICE reported that approximately 475 individuals were being detained. At a conservative estimate of $90 per day to detain one individual, the daily detention costs for this operation would be $42,750 per day, just short of $300,000 in detention costs for a week. These are serious numbers that again emphasize ICE’s intensity and commitment to worksite enforcement operations. Indeed, the gauntlet has been thrown down.

The industry in which Howard Industries operated in also underscores the opening of the playing field when it comes to ICE’s targeting of employers. Past operations have focused on critical infrastructure worksite locations such as airports and military bases or on industries with historically higher percentages of illegal workers such as restaurants and the meat and poultry processing industries. Howard Industries operates in the electrical and computer technology arena. According to its Web site, Howard Industries produces power products for utilities and commercial/industrial customers, over 190,000 technology-related solutions, medical technology products for hospitals and clinics, and industrial and commercial lighting products. Note that I did not mention a single chicken, produce that needs to be picked, or a hotel or restaurant name in describing Howard Industries. It should be understood that when it comes to today’s ICE worksite enforcement, it is a wild card that can point to any employer in any industry.

Worksite enforcement is not a novel theory – the concept was created over 20 years during the passage of the last immigration amnesty as a counter-weight to future illegal immigration. The fact that federal government is actually applying it to employers is the novelty. To unbiased immigration scholars and philosophers, the concept is accepted as a necessary tool to deter illegal immigration by eliminating the job magnet that draws the vast majority of illegals who are economic migrants. Further, effective worksite operations serve as a disincentive for unscrupulous employers to knowingly hire undocumented workers. During the recent immigration reform debate, it was viewed as one of the pillars to fixing our immigration system.

Today, an increasingly popular perspective is that the worksite enforcement concept is now being utilized by the Administration in a different manner, that being to initiate a reign of pain in hopes of corralling the employer community and divided public into compromise on and passage of comprehensive immigration reform. If that is what it takes to begin fixing the overall immigration system on both the benefits and the enforcement side, the strategy and cost may be worthwhile. However, until this goal is achieved, the message is clear: employer and employee casualties will continue to mount on the negotiation table as far as this Administration is concerned.