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Union Leader Condemns Administration for Stepping Up Immigration Enforcement


Union workers protest after dozens of undocumented Chipotle workers were fired from their positions.

CREDIT: SOURCE: Flickr / SEIU International

A leader in the Service Employees International Union has condemned the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration enforcement policy, which has recently undergone a shift in emphasis from workplace raids to employer verification. Politico’s Ben Smith has the quote from SEIU Minnesota Local 26 president Javier Morillo, who was reacting to the firing of 250 unionized janitors in the Minneapolis area after a federal investigation of their employers:

Under the leadership of Secretary Napolitano the federal government has become an employment agency for the country’s worst employers. With each I-9 audit, the government is systematically pushing hardworking people into the underground economy where they face exploitation… Let’s be clear: I-9 audits, by definition, do not go after egregious employers who break immigration laws because many of them do not use I-9 forms. Human traffickers do not ask their victims for their social security cards.

The “I-9 audit” is a verification system put in place in 1986 in which the federal government can request that businesses check the documentation of their employees. Immigration reform proponents have criticized the I-9 audit because it relies excessively on the honesty of employers when they are checking IDs. As a Migration Policy Institute report from 2009 pointed out: “…Bad-faith employers are able to shield themselves from sanctions by going through the motions of compliance (i.e., checking documents) without intending to screen out unauthorized workers…” The result is that the only undocumented employees that get fired as a result of an I-9 audit are the ones who are least likely to be exploited at their jobs.

In response to the SEIU’s criticism of the I-9 audits, National Review’s Mark Krikorian accuses the unions of favoring open borders, and asks “Is there any enforcement they’re for?” Well, yes, there is. The SEIU wants a solution to illegal immigration that doesn’t lead to the compartmentalizing of the American workforce into legal and illegal sectors. They want to see that every worker in America can safely appeal to the rule of law, and maybe even join a union while they’re at it. But an employer sanctions program that exclusively targets the good businesses will just make the problem worse. It takes people with relatively good jobs and safe working environments and turns them into unemployed people. Krikorian calls it the “mildest form of workplace enforcement”, as if a mild form of a bad policy should be praised by the advocates of those who suffer from it.

It’s just another example of how the Obama administration’s immigration policies are counterproductive and have no logical explanation (other than the obvious one: Obama is an immigration hawk). Stepping up enforcement without providing actual reform benefits no one but the exploitative businesses who are able to evade the system. Everyone else loses: immigrants, unions, and someday, the Democratic Party.

Nicolas Mendoza is a staff writer with Campus Progress. You can e-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at @nicmend.

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