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Former Acting ICE Chief Talks Workplace Raids and How Undocumented Labor Drives Economy

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Last week’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Mississippi, which led to the arrest of 680 people, was described as "record setting" raids in terms of size and scope.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Last week's ice raids in Mississippi, which led to the rest of 680 undocumented workers was the largest single state workplace enforcement action in u s history. Does this signal a shift away from the targeting of people with criminal records? That was the priority under the Obama administration and back to the days of large workplace raids, which were popularized under George W. Bush KPBS reporter Max Rivlin nádleehé spoke with the former acting head of immigration and customs enforcement. John Sandwick in our studio last week, they talked about the raids and whether criminal probes will target both workers and employers

Speaker 2: 00:41 with the rage that resulted in the arrest of x hundred and eighty uundocumented workers in ssissippi. We didn't see any charges against the employers and instead it was just the workers themselves. Why is that?

Speaker 3: 00:53 I do think the focus of this operation was on making x hundred aarrests and then getting a lot of press and I think there was a significant goal of the way in which they conducted this operation. It takes a tremendous amount of manpower that you have to divert to make x hundred aarrests of, of civil immigration. None of these people are going to be high priorities. Very few of them, if any, will have criminal histories in the ited States. Almost none of them pose an active threat to the ited States. So, so the real reason they did this, obviously a was to generate as much publicity about the operation as possible. But to be fair to the administration, I do think there is a criminal investigation ongoing as well. They were able to obtain search warrants. So these were warrants that were executed by a federal judge after demonstrating probable cause.

Speaker 3: 01:31 And typically in these federal criminal investigations, the search warrants pre-seed in any actual charges. So ultimately I think we're gonna find that some charges will be brought against employers and potentially executives of the company. Um, whether those charges are so significant that they justified the diversion of x hundred sspecial agents to conduct this operation remains to be seen. Why is it so hard for employers to fill positions at these difficult, strenuous, and at times dangerous jobs? It's just at a poultry plant. We know that people lose fingers, arms all of the time. Why is it so hard for such an important part on our kind of food system to be staffed by people who are here illegally? Yeah. It's no secret that this, this economy, our economy relies on undocumented labor. [inaudible] in the employers are not shy about that and that's why you know the Chamber of Commerce and other support, comprehensive immigration reform to kind of bring these people out of the shadows.

Speaker 3: 02:21 But absolutely, I mean when ice is looking for worksite top operations, they know very well that they're always going to find much larger numbers in these very difficult jobs. Agriculture, meatpacking, construction, that's where you're going to find your largest number of undocumented workers and these kind of difficult and generally low wage paying jobs. Frankly, because Americans are not willing to take them or the employers are not willing to pay a wage that will entice Americans to take them. And candidly, consumers, all of us are not willing to pay for, you know, chicken. The price that would take to pay that competitive wage. Now, a new rule was handed down less than a month ago, which basically would expand expedited removal, which allows ice to remove somebody from the country, uh, in a very short amount of time to nationwide and not just within a certain area from the border.

Speaker 3: 03:07 Would this raid, if this law, which as I understand it, this rule is in effect, but has yet to be implemented by ice with this raid, be something somewhere where ice could implement this, this new expedited removal rule. Yeah, this is exactly what you know, I think that the architects of expanding expedited removal would want that rule to be used on, so what you would have is x hundred iindividuals, the rural, technically by statute, expedited removal cannot be used for anyone who's been in the ited States ffor more than o yyears in the regulation that ice published. The way they interpret that, that provision is that you have to demonstrate the immigrant has the burden of demonstrating that they've been continuously present in the ited States ffor o yyears. So that means even if you've been living here n yyears and you can demonstrate through leases or payroll pay stubs or other things of that nature that you've been living in the ited States ffor n yyears, you have to demonstrate they didn't even make a quick trip down to xico tto see family members or something of that nature.

Speaker 3: 03:58 So the, and the burden is on the immigrants. So what you look at in a situation like this and what concerns me is you're going to have individuals who are not legally eligible to be subject to expedited removal, but they're sitting there at work e dday and they're apprehended by ice. They have no opportunity to go home and get whatever evidence that they might have available to them, uh, that would demonstrate they have been continuously present in the ited States ffor o yyears. And those individuals would then run a risk, a very, we would have a very significant risk that they would be subject to expedited removal, meaning they would be deported within probably days of their arrest. Uh, and we're not have an opportunity to go to an immigration judge and present whatever legal claims they might have, uh, to, you know, that they're either US citizens or that perhaps they are somehow eligible for an immigration benefit. That was former acting head of immigration and customs enforcement. John Sandbag speaking with KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Nadler

Speaker 4: 04:54 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.