The stories began flying last week: Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would raid businesses across California and deport undocumented workers.
As of this newspaper’s press time, the raids had not started, but the specter remains.
Heightened anxiety about federal immigration policies has already intensified at the ground level of the nation’s biggest economy earlier this month. A new state law, passed in 2016, went into effect Jan. 1. It makes it a crime for business owners and managers to cooperate with ICE in certain circumstances.
Rumors of pending ICE raids prompted our outspoken Attorney General Xavier Becerra to warn California employers last week that he wouldn’t hesitate to hit businesses with fines up to $10,000 if they assisted ICE in violation of the new state Immigrant Worker Protection Act.
“It’s important, given these rumors that are out there, to let people know – more specifically, employers – that if they voluntarily start giving up information about their employees or access to their employees in ways that contradict our new California laws, they subject themselves to actions by my office,” Becerra said.
This followed a warning earlier this month from President Trump’s acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, via Fox News that “California better hold on tight… If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
A Republican candidate for California governor, Travis Allen, said last week that employers should help federal authorities conducting immigration raids and defy the law that went into effect Jan.1. He said federal officials should consider bringing charges of their own against the attorney general.
The new state law:
- Requires employers to ask immigration agents for a warrant before granting access to a worksite
- Prevents employers from voluntarily sharing confidential employee information without a subpoena
- Requires employers to notify their workers before a federal audit of employee records
Gives the attorney general and labor commissioner exclusive authority to enforce new provisions of state labor laws
- Prohibits employers from re-verifying information on employment verification forms, unless compelled to by federal law.
- Employers must inform employees of potential lawful ICE raids 72 hours in advance, under the new law.The new law, combined with the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies and Becerra’s aggressive stance, leaves business owners and their managers unprotected on the front lines of a pitched national immigration battle.
Becerra apparently is willing to let the men and women behind the counters and in other workplace settings slowly twist in the breeze, uninformed and unprotected by their state with orders to face off against the intimidating presence of armed federal ICE agents.
This heavy-handed confrontational approach by both California and the federal government hurts our most vulnerable businesses and their managers, as this latest immigration enforcement spectacle plays out.
Of course there is a larger context: cannabis laws, offshore drilling, solar tariffs, sanctuary cities, pesticide safeguards, student loans, abortion rights, net neutrality and immigration policies are just some of the federal-state flashpoints that seem so clearly directed at us, the biggest and most blue state.
Rights of our immigrant workers must be protected, but our small business owners and managers also deserve support and guidance from state officials, instead of threats.
To state and federal agencies: These battle lines should be drawn in courtrooms, not in our neighborhood businesses, or our communities will become collateral damage in the immigration wars.