In a high-profile immigration raid in New Bedford, Ma., two weeks ago, a company owner and three other officials were arrested. Historically, says the Christian Science Monitor, such charges have been difficult to prove because managers could always say they were unaware workers carried false documents. Now, the federal government is playing hardball with tactics reminiscent of the war on drugs, using undercover agents, hidden recording equipment, and seizures of property connected with the crime.
The goal is employers in industries that draw large numbers of illegal immigrants, such as meatpacking, construction, and apparel. The raids have a potential political payoff. By showing a willingness to crack down on illegal immigrants and employers, the Bush administration may hope to convince immigration hard-liners to support a guest-worker program. “It’s a sea change in enforcement strategy,” says Jennifer Chacón, an immigration expert at the University of California at Davis. The number of workplace fines dropped from 417 in 1999 to three in 2004, while criminal arrests – many involving company executives or managers – are up dramatically. In FY 2005, there were 176 arrests; a year later, there were 718. In the last three months of 2006, there were 395 arrests.