SAN FRANCISCO - Federal immigration agents visited 77 businesses in Northern California this week demanding proof from employers that their workers are legally allowed to work in the United States, prompting cries of outrage from at least two Bay Area Democratic lawmakers.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is wrong," U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna said Friday in a statement. "I firmly believe, as I know many of my colleagues and neighbors in our communities do, that law enforcement must prioritize criminals and not tear apart undocumented families who pose no threats to public safety."
Added U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris: "I'm deeply troubled by this administration's efforts to punish California, and direct limited resources towards targeting hard working undocumented immigrants who do not pose a threat to public safety. While law enforcement should prioritize dangerous criminals, widespread raids will result in the deportation of those who are living lawful lives and will erode public safety in immigrant communities."
ICE confirmed on Friday that Homeland Security Investigations special agents served "notices of inspections," known as I-9 audit notices, to the 77 businesses in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and other nearby areas. Businesses have three days to comply, and face possible civil fines and criminal prosecution if they can't prove they've fired employees hired illegally.
"The actions taken this week reflect HSI's stepped-up efforts to enforce the laws that prohibit businesses from hiring illegal workers," ICE spokesman James Schwab said in an email to KTVU on Friday. "HSI's worksite enforcement strategy is focused on protecting jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminating unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthening public safety and national security."
So far, no known arrests were made, the Chronicle reported.
One woman emailed KTVU on Friday, angrily decrying the characterization that these were "raids."
She said her friend's company was "served notice of audit, files that they are legally required to keep anyway." She said the ICE agent was professional and came in alone. He took the records from her friend's company, she said, and will send the result of the audits in later. "It was no big deal for a company that follows the law," she wrote.
She did not return emails seeking more comment and would not identify the business.
These audits follow on the heels of similar immigration actions across the country in January, when ICE agents swept into 7-Eleven stores, arresting a total of 21 undocumented immigrants in 17 states.
The audits from this week's ICE raids "remain ongoing," agency spokesman Schwab said. "Any potential criminal charges or other penalties will be coordinated with the U.S. Department of Justice."
ICE's acting director Thomas Homan, the agency's acting director, has called for a "400 percent increase" in such workplace operations.
HSI conducted 1,360 I-9 audits last year and made 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests, Schwab said. In 2017, businesses were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeiture, fines and restitution and $7.8 million in civil fines, including a Philadelphia tree service company whose financial penalties represented the largest payment ever levied in an in an immigration case.