Feds Plan Nationwide Operation Targeting Food Service Chain over Undocumented Workers

Betsy Woodruf, Daily Beast, November 21, 2017

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Federal agents are planning to conduct a major worksite enforcement operation at a national food service chain in the coming weeks, according to an internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document reviewed by The Daily Beast.

The current plan is focused on employers who exploit undocumented workers by illegally paying them below the minimum wage. The operation will target locations around the country and will likely result in charges of “harboring illegal aliens,” according to an ICE official.

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The plans detailed in the document are the strongest indication to date that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are increasing what’s called “worksite enforcement”—meaning, efforts to prosecute people who employ undocumented immigrants. As with all complex law enforcement operations, there’s a chance this one is altered or even scuttled. If it does go according to plan, however, it will be the first major worksite enforcement action of an administration that has promised to prioritize this core ICE mission.

The food service industry is a particularly ripe target, with The Migration Policy Institute estimating that about 9 percent of food service workers in the U.S. are undocumented.

According to the plans, the operation will focus on franchise owners who exploit undocumented workers. The agency has already done preliminary investigations and picked targets, The Daily Beast has learned.

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Undocumented workers are uniquely vulnerable to this kind of exploitation because many fear that talking to law enforcement will lead to their deportation.

The ICE official who spoke to The Daily Beast said undocumented workers who cooperate with the agency could potentially be eligible for U visas, which let victims of crimes who testify against their perpetrators stay in the United States temporarily.

Tom Homan, the acting director of ICE, said in a speech last month at the conservative Heritage Foundation that the agency would target more work sites in the coming months. He also said the agency would target undocumented workers as well as their employers.

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