Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s mass roundup of 1,282 illegal alien workers at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plans around the country yesterday has been a headline story today around the country. The Des Moines Register and the Salt Lake Tribune provide local perspective on the story, and DHS issued a press release and held a press conference with Sec. Chertoff and ICE Asst. Secretary Julie Myers to explain the Department’s actions. The latter documents focus on the ‘identity theft’ dimension of these raids, noting that 65 of the people arrested for immigration violations were also charged with identity theft-related infractions. And in his remarks, Sec. Chertoff focused on the administration’s continued desire to create a Temporary Worker Program, something which could potentially mitigate the need for such raids.
Overall, I think these arrests were warranted; without aggressive worksite enforcement, companies will face undue temptations to employ illegal workers, creating a race to the bottom in certain sectors of the economy. The tactics used were exceedingly dramatic – the law enforcement of “shock and awe” – but if that has a deterrent effect on similar scofflaws, then it’s perhaps warranted. However, I am concerned about the way in which some American citizens of Hispanic origin were treated during these raids, as recounted in the aforementioned Salt Lake Tribune story. And it’s undoubtedly true that the need for these types of raids would decrease with the creation of a Temporary Worker Program.