GAO: Workplace Immigrant Law Enforcement a Low Priority

June 22, 2005 ( - Workplace immigration law enforcement has dropped markedly since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The steep decline means employers are all but guaranteed to get away with hiring illegal immigrants, the Sacramento Bee reported. “Work-site enforcement has been a low priority,” Government Accountability Office (GAO) official Richard Stana told a House panel.

In 1999, federal officials formally notified 417 employers that they would be fined for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants or improperly completing employment verification forms. However, only three employers received the notice of a fine in 2003, GAO auditors found. Similarly, immigration officials arrested 2,849 individuals at workplaces in 1999. By 2003, the GAO noted, the number of workplace arrests had fallen to 445.

Critics, though, have long considered employer sanctions to be ineffective, a problem that has gotten worse since 9/11, GAO auditors found. Officials now focus almost exclusively on removing unauthorized workers from vulnerable sites such as airports and nuclear power plants.

Immigration officials now require field offices to request prior headquarters approval before opening any new workplace investigations of such noncritical sites as farms and restaurants, GAO auditors revealed. “It has focused resources,” Stana said of the new policy, “but it has discouraged work-site enforcement.”

Widespread document fraud complicates employers’ efforts to confirm workers’ eligibility, auditors noted. Twenty-seven different documents can currently be presented to establish eligibility.

Stana’s testimony is here .