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Immigration officials crack down on employers, increase investigations

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

PHOENIX — Immigration officials have significantly increased the number of companies they’ve investigated to verify their employees are authorized to work in the United States.

New numbers released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed 2,282 employers were audited between Oct. 1 and May, almost a 60 percent increase from the 1,360 audits initiated between October 2016 and September 2017.

Of the employers recently audited, 594 were arrested on criminal immigration charges and 610 were arrested on civil immigration charges. That’s up from 139 criminal arrests and 172 civil arrests made between October 2016 and September 2017.

“Our worksite enforcement strategy continues to focus on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly break the law, and the use of I-9 audits and civil fines to encourage compliance with the law,” said Derek Benner, acting executive associate director for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Benner told the Associated Press they planned to continue the crackdowns throughout the summer. He said they hoped to reach “well over” 5,000 audits by end of September. That would top the most recent peak of audits, which reached 3,127 in 2013.

Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he doesn’t see this affecting Arizona as much as other states.

“And the reason why is because of Arizona’s employer sanctions law,” he explained. “Companies are already required to use the E-Verify system.”

Employers use the E-Verify system to check whether or not an individual is legally authorized to work in the U.S. In 2008, Arizona became the first state to mandate that all employers use E-Verify.

At the beginning, employers had concerns over whether the system operated properly and whether employers could be held responsible for its errors. Over the years, not as many employers have expressed concerns.

Hamer said while all employers should be complying with the law when it comes to hiring new workers, he believes the nation’s immigration system needs to be reformed and updated “so that employers can hire the workers that they need.”

“We know in industries like lodging, agriculture, and construction, there’s a desperate need for workers,” he said.

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