Biden Administration Orders ICE to Stop Mass Raids on Immigrants' Workplaces

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Two protesters hold signs. One says, "ICE Out: K-Town contra las redadas," or K-Town against mass deportations; the other says "Stop Biden's Deportations."
Activists gather for a 'Reunite Our Families Now' rally in Los Angeles on March 6, 2021, to protest continued deportations under President Joe Biden. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will no longer conduct mass raids on workplaces where undocumented immigrants are employed, according to a new order by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The real problem, Mayorkas said in a memorandum released Tuesday, are "exploitative employers," not unauthorized workers.

Trump-era raids became tools for suppression, DHS says

"Under the previous administration, these resource-intensive operations resulted in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers," DHS said about the change. While the raids attracted attention and made headlines, the agency says they "were used as a tool by exploitative employers to suppress and retaliate against workers' assertion of labor laws."


The announcement is part of a shift in strategy under the Biden administration that puts a new emphasis on going after businesses and employers that violate labor laws. In addition to halting mass raids, it supports the idea of exercising prosecutorial discretion to spare workers from charges if they witness or are the victims of abuse or exploitation in the workplace.

"We will not tolerate unscrupulous employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities, or impose unsafe working conditions," Mayorkas said in a news release about the shift.

"By adopting policies that focus on the most unscrupulous employers," he said, "we will protect workers as well as legitimate American businesses."

Immigration advocacy groups welcomed the policy shift, although groups such as the National Partnership for New Americans also renewed their call for permanent reform, including legal protections for millions of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and those with temporary protected status.

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"We also ask Congress to act courageously and swiftly to include funds in the reconciliation package to provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers and essential workers," said Nicole Melaku, the group's executive director, in an email to NPR.

During the Trump administration, ICE carried out several massive workplace raids that the then-president touted as a centerpiece of his crackdown on undocumented immigration. One operation in 2018 resulted in the arrest of 146 employees at a meat processing company in northeast Ohio.

That raid was followed by an operation in August 2019 in which ICE agents arrested approximately 680 people at food processing plants in Mississippi.

Around that same period, immigration attorneys shared with KQED that at least 22 people were arrested by immigration authorities in the Bay Area within the span of a week.

In 2017, California became a so-called "sanctuary state" after it passed SB 54, which limits local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to cases of serious convicted criminals and to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

This post includes reporting from KQED's Farida Jhabvala Romero.