Video: Ex-ICE Official: Neglect of Workplace Enforcement Harmful to Workers and the Economy

Article author: 
Jessica Vaughan, Bryan Griffith, Bill Riley
Article publisher: 
Center for Immigration Studies
Article date: 
16 September 2013
Article category: 
National News
Article Body: 

View Mr. Riley’s video interview
View the CIS policy video series

In a new Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) video, a former Assistant Special Agent in Charge at U.S. Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) examines worksite enforcement and the agency’s neglect of illegal employment. William Riley advocates stiffer penalties, increased resources for ICE, and the expansion of E-Verify for employers.

Preventing illegal employment is a neglected but essential component of effective immigration policy. Riley describes how workers and employers defy the laws prohibiting illegal hiring; how ICE historically has addressed the problem; and how the law could be changed to encourage more employers to comply and to enable ICE to better deter unlawful practices that are harmful to workers and the economy.

"Complaints of illegal employment are the number one complaint received from the public by ICE. There is no end to them; every office is inundated with them," says Riley.

Commenting on ICE’s effectiveness, Jessica Vaughan, the Center’s Director of Policy Studies, comments, “Currently ICE expends only about six percent of its investigative capacity on worksite enforcement, and as a result we have made no progress in reducing illegal employment and creating more opportunities for underemployed American workers. The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772) introduced by Reps Bob Goodlatte and Lamar Smith and passed by the House Judiciary committee earlier this year would address many of the problems described by Riley, in contrast to the Schumer-Rubio bill, which weakens the E-Verify system.”

According to Riley, the E-Verify system is effective and should be expanded: “E-Verify ... does a very good job of identifying false documents ... however, it is completely vulnerable to ID theft.” He suggests a number of ways that the government could address the identity theft problem, including monitoring of Social Security numbers, sending no-match letters to employers and number-holders, information-sharing, and an expanded photo-matching system. Riley notes that ICE officers have no simple way to verify Social Security numbers they encounter, and that they should be given better access to SSA records.

Riley also compares the two complementary worksite enforcement tools of workplace raids and employer audits. He explains the fines, penalties, and criminal charges that ICE may use to punish offending employers, and how ICE historically dealt with illegal workers as opposed to the current ICE strategy that focuses on citing employers for paperwork violations. According to Riley, raids get the attention of both workers and employers, but are costly to execute. Audits allow ICE to inspect the practices of more employers, although the consequences are typically less severe, and illegal workers are not penalized.

“The current penalty structure fails to deter employers,” says Riley. “It also fails to support the agency enforcement efforts, since the fines collected go directly to the U.S. Treasury, as opposed to funds from assets that are forfeited, which are used by ICE to help fund enforcement operations.”