Earlier this month, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions received a request by a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigator asking for direct access to all the employment data we oversee.
Though the agent’s stated reason was to aid in what they described as criminal investigations the real reason for their ask is clear. Just two days later, on August 8, ICE conducted what they described as the largest immigration raids ever in Mississippi. Six hundred and eighty people, from seven food processing plants, were detained. Americans saw the result: Pictures and videos of crying children separated from their family members on the first day of school blanketed news and social media sites. Afterwards, President Donald Trump praised the raids, calling them a “very good deterrent.”
New Mexico denied ICE’s request to aid in their deportation raids immediately, and we encourage other states to consider doing the same when they come to you.
Employment information in state systems includes names, addresses and wage data for every person working and registered for unemployment in the nation. Federal law admits this information is sensitive and tells states to keep it confidential with limited exceptions.
While our state law permits us to cooperate with law enforcement when they ask for help in targeted areas like human trafficking and child support enforcement, we will not break trust with New Mexicans by allowing unlimited access to the personal information of every employer and working person in the state.
We have other concerns. The Pew research center estimates that there are 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and 66 percent have lived here for over a decade meaning many have families. Citizens under 18 living with their undocumented parents number 4.7 million. Hard-line immigration practices like raids separating kids from families, as opposed to reforms allowing people to come out of the shadows and live openly, make our communities more dangerous.
After ICE raids many immigrants won’t send their children to school. In 2017, ICE went door to door in my hometown of Las Cruces. Thousands of kids missed school over the following two days because their families were so terrified of showing up in public.
People at La Casa, my local domestic violence shelter, hear frequently that undocumented women who are raped or witness child abuse will not report attackers for fear of being deported. The fact that ICE has increased courthouse arrests since Trump was elected makes this terrible situation so much worse.
Additionally, research shows that stress caused on a young brain by immigration-related family separations increases chances for depression and health problems like obesity, heart disease and even cancer.
The dangers don’t stop there. When undocumented folks are scared, they won’t report crimes. Local police across the nation speak out against aggressive deportation operations for this reason. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in 2017, “What if the only witness to a crime is an undocumented nanny, or the gardener, or a construction worker? And now they don’t call in what they see!”
These situations make life dangerous for everyone.
And while some argue that ICE raids stop corporations from taking advantage of undocumented immigrants by paying less, the fact is that the Trump administration has not yet prosecuted any of the Mississippi plants raided earlier this month. Only 11 individuals were prosecuted for knowingly hiring undocumented people between March 2018 and April 2019, the Associated Press reports. And in the fiscal year of 2018, only 72 managers were arrested. Furthermore, state departments of labor already have the power to investigate and prosecute wage thieves to ensure people get paid without regard to immigration status and without ripping families apart.
New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration wants privacy protection for our citizens, safer communities and well-educated, healthy kids. We encourage Congress to enact immigration reform creating a pathway to citizenship inviting people who work hard, pay their taxes, and want the American Dream to come out of the shadows. Until then, we encourage agencies in other states to consider the consequences of working with ICE under the Trump administration on their people.
We urge them to choose wisely.
Bill McCamley is the secretary of the New Mexico Workforce Solutions Department.