Phoenix Immigration reform advocates have increasingly lodged the criticism that the Obama Administration, the state of Arizona, and many other jurisdictions is criminalizing immigrants. Part of this lies in the simple Arpaio aberration of taking a civil infraction, which is how an immigration violation exists in law, and making it a criminal issue, largely in the court of public opinion.
As part of the Administration policy, criminalizing the employers has become more aggressive and effective in their weapons against immigrants. From today’s Times:
“Under a policy that went into effect in April 2009, the Obama administration is taking a much tougher stance on employers who hire illegal immigrants than any administration in decades. Enforcement agents have subjected businesses across the country to much greater scrutiny, using tactics that were almost nonexistent until two years ago. Federal officials said they expected to announce record numbers of investigations and fines by the end of the year. As of July 31, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, had announced investigations of 2,073 businesses so far this year, outpacing the 1,461 conducted in all of 2009.”
In the story in the New York Times dining section the whole gamut of contradictions was on rare display. Our friends at the Interfaith Workers’ Justice, based in Chicago, were clear that restaurants should pay a fair wage. The Restaurant Association seemed to be warning that paying fairly and hiring legal would mean that prices would go up at your favorite chi-chi spot, though I’m betting prices are pretty stiff now. To no one’s surprise he Pew Research Center seems clear that the back of the house in a restaurant is an open door for employment for recent immigrants:
“Out of a total of about 12.7 million workers in the restaurant industry, an estimated 1.4 million — both legal and illegal immigrants — are foreign born, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to 2008 estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, about 20 percent of the nearly 2.6 million chefs, head cooks and cooks are illegal immigrants. Among the 360,000 dishwashers, 28 percent are undocumented, according to the estimates.”
So, if 10-15% of the industry is undocumented, ICE is shooting fish in a barrel it would seem, but rather than continuing the old school system of raiding the fish and watching them swim, now ICE and the Obama Administration is shooting the fisherman – the employers – rather than the fish. And, there are recent examples of bagging some big ones:
“In June, the owner of two Maryland restaurants who pleaded guilty to hiring and harboring illegal immigrants was ordered to forfeit to the government more than $700,000 in assets — in addition to his motorcycle — and faces up to 10 years in prison. In November, a restaurateur in Mississippi who had pleaded guilty to hiring illegal immigrants was sentenced to a year in prison and a year of supervised release. Combined fines in the case, shared among several defendants, amount to $600,000.”
Many of the chefs and restaurateurs are making it easy for them by believing that they can slick this problem away by paying in cash. Whoa, Nellie! Not happenin captain! The hole got dug deeper and the net flung wider.
This new policy will scare some criminal employers into line, and for sure listening to their blushing whines about their practices doesn’t encourage much sympathy for them, but it won’t work, it’s simply too big.
If they want a new immigration policy and if we want immigration reform, ICE needs to read the industry and employers’ lament and go on and take the next logical step: criminalize the customers! Then hell will finally break loose in full helter-skelter. It’s the “going after the johns” strategy on prostitution by targeting the beneficiaries of the “criminal” activity. It’s just a matter of time at this rate before someone goes in and frog marches a bunch of high rollers at a fancy $100 a plate meal into some paddy wagons and listens to them squeal, so we finally have the public engaged in the issue and reform. Maybe then we will get somewhere.
In the meantime the pain of these policies spreads like a disease through the land.