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[Excerpt] Over the past few years, the media have been filled with reports about worksite enforcement operations, commonly referred to as immigration raids. These operations represent the public face of efforts by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to curtail the employment of unauthorized immigrants (illegal aliens). According to 2006 estimates, there are some 7.8 million unauthorized workers in the U.S. civilian workforce.

DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for Immigration-related worksite enforcement, or enforcement of the prohibitions on unauthorized employment in Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA §274A provisions, sometimes referred to as employer sanctions, make it unlawful for an employer to knowingly hire, recruit or refer for a fee, or continue to employ an alien who is not authorized to be so employed. Today, ICE’s worksite enforcement program is focused primarily on cases that involve critical infrastructure facilities and cases involving employers who commit “egregious violations” of criminal statutes and engage in worker exploitation.

Employers who violate INA prohibitions on the unlawful employment of aliens may be subject to civil monetary penalties and/or criminal penalties. Criminal investigations may result in defendants being charged with crimes beyond unlawful employment and being subject to the relevant penalties for those violations.

Various measures are available to examine the performance of ICE’s worksite enforcement program. They include Final Orders for civil monetary penalties, administrative fines, administrative arrests, criminal arrests, criminal indictments and convictions, and criminal fines and forfeitures. In recent years, ICE has generally focused less on administrative fines and more on administrative and criminal arrests, criminal prosecutions, and criminal fines and forfeitures. The data presented here show increases in these latter measures in recent years. At the same time, however, when considered in terms of the estimated size of the unauthorized workforce or the potential number of employers employing these workers in violation of the law, ICE’s worksite enforcement program can seem quite small.

Enforcement activity by the Department of Labor (DOL) is also relevant to a discussion of federal efforts to curtail unauthorized employment. DOL, which is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime pay, and related requirements, focuses a significant percentage of its enforcement resources on a group of low-wage industries that employ large numbers of immigrant—and presumably large numbers of unauthorized—workers.

Related background information can be found in CRS Report RL33973, Unauthorized Employment in the United States: Issues and Options, and a discussion of related legislation can be found in CRS Report RL34204, Immigration Legislation and Issues in the 110th Congress. This report will be updated when new data become available.


Suggested Citation
Bruno, A. (2008). Immigration-related worksite enforcement: Performance measures (R40002) [Electronic version]. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.