Many U.S. employers worried in the late 1980s about raids by immigration officials looking for illegal workers. In recent years, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the number of corporations fined for immigration violations has declined, the Christian Science Monitor says.
After federal raids last week on Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, the question is whether the trend is tilting back toward tougher enforcement. Authorities say that Wal-Mart knew that janitors were illegal immigrants. Wal-Mart denies the charge.
Some experts say it is an isolated incident involving Wal-Mart. For more than a decade, they say, the unspoken policy of workplace enforcement has been to look the other way inside companies – and that will likely stay the same.
In 1990, 14,311 employers were fined for hiring illegal immigrants. That number dropped to 7,115 by 1998 and 178 by 2000, says the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego.
For years, Congress focused immigration efforts elsewhere, says Deborah Meyers of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. INS officials concentrated on capturing illegal immigrants who are also criminals.
The Wal-Mart raid took many immigrants’ rights groups and employers by surprise. Some saw it as an opportunity to shed light on a broken system. “Everyone agrees that our current immigration system doesn’t work. This raid is just another example of that,” says Judy Golub of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington. “I want my government to go after terrorists, not janitors.”