U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has broken records this year for raiding worksites around the country and arresting illegal immigrants, despite criticism from some lawmakers and immigrant advocates that the agency is using inhumane and heavy-handed tactics.
"We have record enforcement numbers in every area of enforcement," ICE chief Julie Myers told reporters Friday.
Already for fiscal 2008, the agency has made 998 arrests at worksites around the country, which includes 116 employers or managers, Myers said.
In fiscal 2007, the agency made 863 arrests, including 91 employers or managers. "We think we'll be over 1,000 arrests very soon," Myers said. "It's a substantial increase on both employers and criminal arrests overall."
But ICE has come under fire recently from some Democrats in Congress, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, for conducting worksite raids in places like Postville, Iowa, and Houston. House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., held a hearing July 24 on the raid in Postville, in which more than 300 illegal workers were arrested.
Immigration lawyers testifying at the hearing said it did not appear to them that the workers were adequately informed of the charges against them or of their rights. Lofgren called the raid and subsequent prosecution of the workers "unusual and provocative," adding that she has "questions about whether they meet the requirements of due process" of the law. She said her investigation into the raid will continue and might lead to legislation. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, has called for an investigation into raids at companies in Houston.
When asked whether ICE did anything wrong during the Postville raid, Myers referred questions to testimony at the hearing by Deborah Rhodes, senior associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department, and Marcy Forman, director of investigations for ICE.
"I think our agency has taken extraordinary steps to ensure that we are identifying not only humanitarian concerns but ensuring that all appropriate due process is followed," Myers said in general about ICE raids. "I think the bottom line is some people don't want us to enforce the law."
She said more companies are turning away from hiring illegal workers, and observed that about 1,000 employers a week are signing up to use the Homeland Security Department's E-Verify program, which allows them to confirm the legal status of their workers.
"What we are seeing from industry and from business is increased interest in compliance," she said. "They do not want to be on the wrong side of an ICE enforcement action."
Myers also cited other statistics showing her agency's increased activity in enforcing immigration laws. For example, the agency plans to initiate deportation proceedings against more than 200,000 criminal illegal aliens in U.S. jails this year, up from 137,000 last year. And the number of illegal immigrants who have been given deportation orders but remain on the loose in the United States has declined from about 632,000 to 572,000, she said.
"We're trying to make it harder to sneak into this country and harder to stay here illegally. We're doing that in every way possible," she said.