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Trump Administration Increases Immigration Enforcement at Businesses

Summary:
President Trump’s administration has increased immigration enforcement at worksites, just as he promised.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 2,304 people at worksites in the fiscal year 2018, a more than 7-fold increase from the previous fiscal year and about 6.7-fold more than the last full year of the Obama administration.  ICE’s worksite arrests fall into two categories: criminal or administrative.  Any citizen or noncitizen whom ICE suspects of having committed a criminal violation, such as identity fraud, can be arrested.  Administrative arrests are for civil violators of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which means that only non-citizens can be arrested for such violations.  An administrative arrest is usually the first step toward deportation for an

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President Trump’s administration has increased immigration enforcement at worksites, just as he promised.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 2,304 people at worksites in the fiscal year 2018, a more than 7-fold increase from the previous fiscal year and about 6.7-fold more than the last full year of the Obama administration. 

ICE’s worksite arrests fall into two categories: criminal or administrative.  Any citizen or noncitizen whom ICE suspects of having committed a criminal violation, such as identity fraud, can be arrested.  Administrative arrests are for civil violators of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which means that only non-citizens can be arrested for such violations.  An administrative arrest is usually the first step toward deportation for an immigrant.  ICE doesn’t make most of its initial administrative arrests as it relies on other law enforcement agencies to arrest illegal immigrants, but it does directly arrest those at worksites in these cases.

Figure 1 shows the rapid and recent increase in all ICE criminal and administrative arrests.  The number of arrests peaked in 2008 at 6,287 after several steady years of increases, but then declined during Obama’s presidency with a single blip in 2011.

Figure 1

All ICE Arrests at Worksites

Trump Administration Increases Immigration Enforcement at Businesses

Sources: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Congressional Research Service.

President Trump’s ICE is making more administrative arrests and a greater percentage of those come from worksite enforcement (Figure 2).  In 2016, only 0.35 percent of all of ICE’s administrative arrests (those that ICE makes itself) were at worksites.  In 2018, 3.7 percent of all of ICE’s non-custodial arrests were at worksites.  Since 2017, administrative arrests are up 8.9-fold compared to a 5.6-fold increase in criminal arrests over the same time.  As a share of all ICE administrative arrests, those conducted at worksites are up about 10.7-fold over 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, and 8.8-fold since 2017.      

Figure 2

Worksite Administrative Arrests as a Percent of All ICE Administrative Arrests

Trump Administration Increases Immigration Enforcement at Businesses

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Congressional Research Service.

The I-9 worksite audit was a major innovation in immigration enforcement unrolled during Obama’s administration, which Trump’s administration is using with alacrity (Figure 3).  Although the number of worksite audits increased about 4.4-fold from 2017 to 2018, from 1,360 to 5,981, only a small fraction of all establishments were actually audited.  The Business Dynamics Statistics (BDS) at the U.S. Census reports that there were more than 6.8 million business establishments in 2016, the last year for which data is available.  Not all of those 6.8 million establishments have employees besides the founder and, since he doesn’t have to fill out an I-9 form, not all of them would be subject to audits.  With the aid of a back of the envelope estimate, I assume that about 3.9 million of those establishments had more than one employee in 2016.  Thus, it’s unlikely that the 5,981 ICE I-9 audits in FY2018 covered more than 0.15 percent of all business worksites. 

Figure 3

I-9 Audits

Trump Administration Increases Immigration Enforcement at Businesses

Sources: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Congressional Research Service.

ICE clustered its I-9 audits by time in 2018.  It sent out 5,278 (88 percent) of the 5,981 notices of inspection for the audits during the two periods of January 29 through March 30 and July 16 through July 20.  Those big operations were meant to frighten illegal immigrants and their employers.  Since ICE only audited about 0.15 percent of establishments, it has to rely on fear to increase compliance with immigration laws at worksites.

The Trump administration was supposed to reduce expensive economic regulation.  In many other sectors of the economy, Trump has followed through on this promise.  Immigration is the exception. 

Alex Nowrasteh
He is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the Fletcher Security Review, and Public Choice.

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