Employers need to be careful in communicating with employees about a new immigration enforcement policy.
Last week, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum outlining the federal government’s new approach to immigration enforcement. The new enforcement strategy attempts to clear a deportation backlog by providing a case-by-case review of unauthorized immigrants slated for deportation.
The Obama administration deported a record 392,000 unauthorized immigrants last year, about 200,000 of whom had no criminal records. The administration’s aggressive focus on unauthorized immigration has contributed to a considerable backlog in the immigration court system, increasing the amount of time it takes to remove an unauthorized immigrant from the country.
To cope with this situation, DHS is changing its enforcement approach. Going forward, it will only remove “high-priority” unauthorized immigrants. These include individuals who pose a serious threat to national security, are felons and repeat criminal offenders, are known gang members, or have a record of repeated immigration violations.
Low-priority unauthorized immigrants, by contrast, may be allowed to remain in the United States indefinitely. These individuals include veterans, those with long-time ties to the United States, individuals brought into the United States illegally as children, pregnant women, domestic violence victims, and spouses (including same-sex spouses) of U.S. citizens.
Even though certain unauthorized immigrants might not be subject to deportation, employers should remember that employing individuals who are not authorized to work in the United States violates federal law. Continuing to employ unauthorized workers could cost employers as much as $16,000 per worker.
“Because of this, the new deportation policy has the potential really to put employers in a bind,” says MSEC Manager of Immigration Services Ryan Adair. “While an employer might want to help its employees fix their immigration status, learning that an employee is not legally authorized to work probably compels the employer to terminate employment.”