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“Who Benefits From A Crackdown Like This?”

October 01, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

American apparelLegalize LA

American Apparel, a U.S.-based pop clothing company, famous for its bright color garments and for its immigrant, labor and LGTB rights advocacy, has been audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and this resulted in the firing of nearly 2,000 immigrant workers who were unable to prove their legal right to work, according to a news story in the New York Times.


The firings are emblematic of a shift in worksite enforcement policy by the Obama Administration, targeting employers rather than the unauthorized workers themselves.  Or as a New York Times editorial put it: “the feds came with payroll audits rather than the guns and dogs of the Bush years.


Unlike Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa — a meatpacking company raided by ICE in 2008 — American Apparel was not an abusive employer, there were no child labor or sexual harassment charges, workers were given healthcare and paid fairly. The New York Times editorial questions how reformative these “paper raids” can really be:


The director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, called it a milestone in the fight against illegal immigration: “Now all manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government, using our basic civil powers, is going to come knocking on the door.”


The government has to enforce the law. But one has to ask who benefits from a crackdown like this.


Mr. Morton’s own boss, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, used to argue that crackdowns made no sense when workers had no shot at legalization. “To look ‘tough,’ what little enforcement we have ends up being arbitrary and unfair,” she wrote in a 2007 op-ed article in The Washington Post when she was still the governor of Arizona.


The opinion piece goes on, asserting what we here at ImmPolitic continue to repeat over and over again: we will not be able to enforce our way back to control of immigration.  When 5.4% of the American workforce is undocumented and not protected by basic labor laws, we have a problem that goes beyond raids. 


President Obama and Ms. Napolitano inherited a failed immigration policy. They have promised do better in setting priorities, hunting down abusive employers and pressing for comprehensive immigration reform that will give workers hope and a path to legalization.


A crackdown that forces 1,800 taxpaying would-be Americans into joblessness in a dismal economy is a law-enforcement victory only in the bitterest, narrowest sense. As a solution to the problem of unauthorized workers — 1,800 down, millions to go — it’s ludicrous.

        Broken in the U.S.A., October 1, 2oo9


Enforcement from ICE and DHS that respects basic rights needs to be part of any immigration system that works, but that alone will fail if it is not combined with strong enforcement of labor laws and enforceable immigration laws enacted by Congress.  Instead of driving hard-working individuals off-the-books and into the underground economy, leadership in Washington should be working to bring lasting solutions that place immigrants and employers into the system and into compliance with the law.

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