ICE immigration sweep in California puts employers and families on edge

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Federal immigration agents are escalating efforts to crack down on businesses hiring undocumented workers. New data released Friday morning shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement visited 122 businesses over the past five days, mostly in Southern California. It’s the largest sweep so far this year.

ICE conducted about 1,300 of these workplace audits in 2017, reports CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal. This year, they expect a 300 percent increase. Companies found employing undocumented workers could face civil fines or even criminal prosecution. 

“It’s really important for America….To protect American jobs for authorized workers and U.S. citizens,” said Derek Benner, Executive Associate Director, Homeland Security Investigation.

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CBS News

Mike Poindexter is CEO of his family business the Poindexter Nut Company near Fresno, California. He says most Americans don’t want these labor-intensive jobs.

“We hire people all the time. They show up, they work two days and they leave,” Poindexter said.

His company is now being audited by ICE.

“We’ve had somewhere between 5 to 10 percent of our workforce quit voluntarily just over this,” he said.

Asked why he’s not hiring workers legally documented to work in the U.S. Poindexter said, “because they show up with documentation… Here’s my green card, here’s my social security card and it is illegal for me to question that.”

When the company was audited 10 years ago, Poindexter says they were forced to let go of 70 percent of the workforce, costing the business about $2 million. 

“They said you think it’s OK to hire illegals? I said I’ve got a person with three American-born children, U.S. citizens and I have to fire both of their parents, both of them,” he said.

Rafael, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his immigration status, says some of his coworkers have stopped showing up because their employer is also being audited. 

He told Villarreal some employees are scared of immigration arriving to their workplace and taking them. As the sole provider for his family of six, he says his children are worried.

With families and businesses on edge, the debate continues as to whether problems faced by many states like California will be addressed by immigration solutions from Washington.

“The pull factor for people making the trip is the prospect of gaining employment…. If we can eliminate that factor, that is really an added element to border security,” Benner said.

“Whether Trump gets his wall or not, it doesn’t fix it.  Put up a wall, you have a ‘no trespassing’ sign on one side and a ‘help wanted’ sign on the same dang wall,” Poindexter said. “California has jobs that need to be fulfilled and we have people on the other side of the border that want them.”

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