Workplace Raids: A Big Problem with Immigration Enforcement

Ryan McMaken – September 21, 2018

On the matter of immigration, Ron Paul suggested he’d like to see the green card system streamlined to make it easier to work legally in the US. Specifically, he has called for green cards that permit legal employment — and can be easily obtained by “illegal aliens” — but don’t grant political rights like access to welfare or the road to citizenship.

Naturally, Ron Paul — being Ron Paul — isn’t enthusiastic about bureaucratic barriers standing between employers and workers freely entering into contracts for employment.

The “right to contract” (or not contract) of course has a long and respectable history — now ignored or disparaged — in American political and legal history, and for good reason: it is foundational to the respect of property rights.

But, when it comes to employers who don’t hire the “right” kind of government-approved workers, then respect for property rights goes right out the window.

This can be seen in recent efforts by the Trump administration to ratchet up raids on private businesses that are suspected of employing foreign nationals who haven’t filled out all the right government paperwork or jumped through the right bureaucratic hoops.

The UK Independent reported this week [June 3, 2018] that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) “has put a renewed premium on workplace raids, and recently announced that it had already doubled the number of raids between October and May over the year before.”

With “workplace raids,” government agents are in the business of spying on business owners and then raiding their private property in order to cart off the employees with whom the owners have freely contracted. Some of the employees are later charged with identity theft (a real crime), but this often constitutes only a fraction of the workers. Many more are charged with “tax evasion,” the existence of which doesn’t exactly make me fear for my family’s safety.

Much of the rhetoric around these raids has focused on the plight of the employees who are allegedly illegal aliens. That’s fair enough. But given there’s no shortage of that focus in the media overall, I’d like to point out another unfortunate minority group in these workplace raids: the business owners.

While the individual workers hauled away bear a larger personal cost than the business owners, the raids by federal bureaucrats aren’t exactly without cost. From the business owner’s perspective, the raids result in the sudden removal of numerous trained employees. Moreover, as is known by most owners who have actually owned a business of the sort that often involves immigrant labor, immigrants are often attractive to owners for two reasons: they tend to have lower rates of drug use and addiction, and they actually show up.

By removing these workers, the employers must then find new employees and train them. This will occur after a period in which large numbers of openings will be totally unfilled, thus impacting the ability of the employer to service his or her customers.

It’s important to remember that the employees detained and arrested at these workplace raids were specifically invited to work there by the business owners, and were freely offered payment for their services.

Sometimes these owners are charged with crimes, and sometimes they are not. In the wake of a recent SWAT-style roundup of employees, which one observer suspected was conducted to “instill fear in the business community,” authorities told the AP that “no criminal charges have been filed … but the employer is under investigation.”

Being “under investigation” by federal agents is not exactly a reason to celebrate, but in many other cases, employers haven’t even been that “lucky.”

Yet, any complications that arise surrounding identifying documents, taxation, and federal paperwork are purely of the government’s making. Are some of these employees not paying the taxes that they should? Then why not make it easier to pay the taxes by, say, offering the Ron-Paul Green Card to gainfully employed workers?

The way things are done in reality has resulted in placing an additional administrative burden on employers who must jump through the bureaucracy’s hoops of verifying employee identities and pushing around all the right papers to be in “compliance.”

One can already anticipate the complaints from supporters of these raids, of course: “These business owners deserve what they get! They should follow the rules! The law is the law!”

One wonders how many of these people demanding total compliance from business owners also complain about “government bureaucrats” and “government regulations” in nearly every other context. Did any of these obedience purists also refuse to turn in their “bump stocks” when the local state or municipal jurisdiction confiscated them? Do these people report every dime they make at every yard sale as income on every tax form? When it comes to government regulations, do they dot every “i” and cross every “t” when a government agent demands it? It’s unlikely.

Indeed, non-owners rarely understand the pressures of making payroll every two weeks, and that sometimes it’s necessary to conclude there’s simply not time to check up on every single government document handled as part of every hiring process. This animus toward business owners should not be surprising, though. Around 90 percent of American workers are wage workers who don’t employ others or rely on their own businesses to make a living. For the critics, the problems facing business owners are someone else’s problem. As I noted in a 2007 article :

Capitalists have never been very popular among anti-immigration activists. It is not at all uncommon to come across anti-immigration pundits like Lou Dobbs discussing the evils of “corporate America” and its efforts to “exploit cheap labor” at the expense of the American worker.

The use of such rhetoric is time-honored among the foes of free markets. To their enemies, business owners are not persons with rights, but are instead part of a faceless entity known as “corporate America.” And their businesses do not hire people to perform productive work. Instead, they “exploit” cheap foreign labor.

This latter point about “exploiting” labor is a perennial favorite as well. It came up in a recent comment by Jeff Sessions who was defending the workplace raids and lecturing business owners who don’t conform to every diktat handed down by federal regulators:

“You don’t get to get an advantage in this country by having large numbers of illegal workers working for you,” Mr Sessions said of the plant operators, though none had been charged [yet] following the raid. “I’m not shedding tears about them. You don’t get to benefit from being in this country and looking around the world for the cheapest worker you can find. That’s just not good policy for this country.”

Sessions might as well have said “business owners in this country have too much freedom — we know better whom businesses should hire.”

That latter sentiment, of course, is at the core of these federal raids on employers: they’re efforts by federal immigration officials to plan what workers get to work where and when. As with any other government regulation, the mandates are necessarily arbitrary because they are based on central planning divorced from the market process. Government officials have no idea which potential workers make the best workers, where they should be working, or in what industries. Only private employers, through price signals sent by customers, can calculate the best way to use labor resources.

[RELATED: “Only the Private Sector Can Determine the “Correct” Number of Immigrants.”]

Yes, I understand that there are sometimes real violent criminals among immigrant groups, and there are some who abuse the system in other ways, or take advantage of taxpayer funded amenities. But those problems are not what’s being targeted here. Workplace raids are little more than enforcement actions against market actors whose primary “crime” is not conforming to bureaucratic edicts. It’s not a good look.

This article was originally published at Ryan McMaken is an economist and the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian.


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