DHS Secretary Mayorkas Halts Work-Site Immigration Enforcement Operations

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks about an investigation into the treatment of Haitian migrants on the U.S.-Mexican border at the White House, in Washington, D.C, September 24, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it will end mass immigration enforcement operations at worksites.

In a memo issued to Citizenship and Immigration Services and Customs and Border Protection, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas argued that enforcement operations could be more effective when directed at employers of illegal immigrants, instead of immigrants themselves.

“The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country’s unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers,” Mayorkas wrote. “These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations.”

The DHS press release echoed Mayorkas’s language.

“Under the [Trump] administration, these resource-intensive operations resulted in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers and were used as a tool by exploitative employers to suppress and retaliate against workers’ assertion of labor laws,” the release states.

Worksite operations can result in mass arrests of illegal immigrants and charges against their employers. One 2019 operation focused on Mississippi food processing plants resulted in the arrest of 680 illegal immigrants, with charges against 119 of those migrants. ICE deemed it the “largest single-state” worksite operation in U.S. history, and four American employees at the plants were later charged with immigration-related offenses.

Mayorkas previously directed Immigration, Customs and Enforcement to prioritize undocumented immigrants who are deemed to pose a threat to public safety for deportation, as opposed to migrants who are deemed “contributing” members of society.

“The fact an individual is a removable noncitizen therefore should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them,” Mayorkas wrote in new enforcement guidelines on September 30. “We will use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources in a more targeted way.”

The decisions come as the Biden administration attempts to contend with some of the highest levels of illegal immigration in decades.

Border Patrol agents encountered 212,672 migrants at the border in July, the first time in 21 years that monthly encounters breached 200,000. In August Border Patrol agents logged 208,887 migrant encounters, with over a million people entering the U.S. illegally since the start of this year.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for . Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.