Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
From the LA Times Magazine, Illustration by John Ritter
L.A. mayor chides ICE for workplace immigration raidsVillaraigosa tells Homeland Security chief that agents should target criminal gang members and not legitimate businesses. Agency spokeswoman says the priorities are proper.Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has asked the federal government to review its immigration enforcement priorities, warning that work-site raids on "non-exploitative" businesses could have "severe and lasting effects" on the local economy.
"I am concerned that ICE enforcement actions are creating an impression that this region is somehow less hospitable to these critical businesses than other regions," Villaraigosa wrote in a March 27 letter to Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has cracked down on businesses that hire undocumented workers in California and around the nation in recent years, arresting scores of workers and their employers. In fiscal 2007, ICE made more than 4,900 work-site arrests, a 45-fold increase over the number in 2001, authorities said.
In February, more than 130 undocumented workers were arrested at a Van Nuys manufacturing company during an ongoing investigation. Last week, more than 60 workers were arrested on immigration violations during routine federal inspections at South Bay area import warehouses. Other Los Angeles companies, including giant clothing manufacturer American Apparel, have reported that ICE recently inquired about its hiring procedures.
In his letter, Villaraigosa said ICE has targeted "established, responsible employers" in industries that have a "significant reliance on workforces that include undocumented immigrants."
"In these industries, including most areas of manufacturing, even the most scrupulous and responsible employers have no choice but to rely on workers whose documentation, while facially valid, may raise questions about their lawful presence," he wrote. He said ICE should spend its limited resources targeting employers who exploit wage and hour laws.
"At a time when we are facing an economic downturn and gang violence at epidemic levels, the federal government should focus its resources on deporting criminal gang members rather than targeting legitimate businesses," said Matt Szabo, the mayor's spokesman.
Chertoff has not responded to the mayor's letter.
But Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said the department believes its priorities are correct. In its work-site investigations, she said, ICE's focus is on national security and public safety. The agency also investigates companies it believes may have committed visa fraud, money laundering, tax evasion or egregious violations of hiring laws.
"We believe that we are prioritizing appropriately," Keehner said. "This is not random. The types of arrests that are made are well thought out."
Szabo said the mayor and Los Angeles business leaders hope to discuss their concerns with Chertoff in person next week during an annual business trip to Washington, D.C...
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