Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents issued audit notices to over 120 businesses in the Los Angeles area over a five-day operation that ended Thursday, resulting in 212 arrests and 122 notices of inspection, according to a new ICE report.
This week's raids were the latest in a standoff between the state of California and the Trump administration over the latter's efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants. ICE hopes to increase work-site enforcement by 400 percent, the Los Angeles Times reports. This would include more identification and deportation of immigrants without proper papers. Audits can result in civil fines and even criminal prosecutions of employers who "knowingly violated the law," ICE officials told the Times. Over the span of fiscal year 2017, ICE conducted 1,360 I-9 audits and 139 arrests. The agency also levied $7.8 million total in civil fines.
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"Because sanctuary jurisdictions like Los Angeles prevent ICE form arresting criminal aliens in the secure confines of a jail, our officers are forced to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the general public and the aliens at greater risk and increasing the incidents of collateral arrests," said ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan in a press release.
California, a self-declared "sanctuary state" for immigrants, passed a law in January to limit ICE access to private areas of employers' businesses without a warrant. Under the law, businesses are also required to notify employees within 72 hours of notice of inspection.
"It's a deterrent to somebody who is thinking about crossing the border, paying a smuggler and taking that perilous journey," Dani Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman, told the Times. "If there isn't that pull factor or perceived easy employment on the other side, there isn't that incentive to cross in the first place."
While ICE publicizes these raids to deter undocumented arrivals, critics say that the raids will push "people and families further underground, rather than leave," Raúl Hinojosa Ojeda, a professor at the University of California–Los Angeles whose research focuses on undocumented American laborers, told Pacific Standard, in the wake of about 100 raids of 7-Elevens across the country in January.
As the federal government continues to focus on undocumented immigrants, California communities are working to help their large immigrant populations and uphold certain protections against these raids. Last week, the California city of San Gabriel voted against the partnership between its police force and federal immigration agents. The California Values Act, passed in October of 2017, bans "state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments" from aiding federal authorities with deportations.