Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ending the practice of deportation raids on worksites, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo on Tuesday.
"The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country's unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers," Mayorkas wrote in the memo. "These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations."
He added the worksite operations go against the department’s civil rights code.
Mass worksite raids became more common after the first year of the Trump administration. One of the largest coordinated raid operations was conducted across multiple poultry plants in Mississippi in August 2019, resulting in the arrest of nearly 700 workers.
Four executives in charge of the poultry plants were indicted about a year after the raids.
Mayorkas said his department will "develop agency plans to alleviate or mitigate the fear that victims of, and witnesses to, labor trafficking and exploitation may have regarding their cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of unscrupulous employers."
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., applauded the DHS move.
"The previous Administration too often carried out raids that tore apart communities but allowed employers to continue exploiting workers," he said in a statement. "Refocusing resources to counter exploitative employers is a necessary step in protecting the American labor market and workers. I appreciate the Department’s efforts to protect workers who sound the alarm on labor violations."
The National Day Laborers Organizing Network agreed.
"By ending worksite raids and acknowledging that workers should not have to endure the threat of deportation when they courageously come forward to report labor violations, this policy begins to move the country in the right direction," Nadia Marin-Molina, NDLON Co-Executive Director, said.
Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who served as homeland security secretary under President Donald Trump, said the DHS should not be choosing to enforce the law against one group versus another. Wolf said that large-scale operations are not common and usually supported by federal prosecutors.
"Implying that past actions from ICE criminal investigators were wrong is not accurate and another shot at DHS law enforcement and continues the politicizing of DHS under this admin," Wolf tweeted. "Instead of supporting professional agents, DHS is ending a perfectly legal tool in order to appease left wing progressives who want to abolish ICE."
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accused President Biden of "weakening immigration law enforcement even further," as a result of the DHS announcement on ICE raids. "American workers and their wages will suffer as a result.”