Feds focus immigration battle on employers

July 21, 2009 at 10:36 AM
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WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has shifted the way it approaches illegal immigration by focusing on the employer, not the employee, officials said.

While not totally abandoning efforts that target employees, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the changes include more investigations of employers' hiring records and fines for violations, USA Today reported Tuesday.

"We have to come to grips with the market for illegal labor," John Morton, Homeland Security's assistant secretary for ICE, said. "To get there, we have to move beyond individual cases."

The agency still will arrest illegal immigrants as it conducts investigations, Morton told USA Today, adding ICE officials would "place our focus ... first and foremost on the employer."

On July 1, ICE notified 652 businesses it would inspect their hiring records to make sure they verified their workers' legal status, a push Morton said would be expanded.

Other changes include a rescinding of a George W. Bush proposal to crack down on businesses that don't fire workers whose Social Security numbers don't match government records. Mired by court challenges, the plan never went into effect.

The DHS also revealed new standards for a program that grants authority to enforce immigration laws to state and local law enforcement agencies signing agreements with the department and undergo training. The contracts direct police to focus primarily on illegal immigrants already jailed, or who have been convicted or arrested in drug or violent crimes.

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