Ending Workplace Immigration Enforcement, Biden Incentivizes Slavery and Abuse | Opinion

Border Patrol encountered more than 234,000 illegal border crossers in April, according to a court document filed this week. It's an all-time monthly record, and speaks volumes about what the Biden administration is telegraphing to migrants and the cartels that traffic them. The border is for all intents and purposes open, and everyone is taking full advantage.

But controlling immigration is not only something that's accomplished at the border. Most of the folks crossing our southern border are coming in search of better economic opportunities—opportunities they have no problem finding. It's supply and demand, Economics 101. And what it means is that if you want to control the flood of illegal immigrants, you need to make it costly for businesses to hire to them. End the demand, and you'll staunch the supply.

And yet, the Biden administration is doing the exact opposite. Earlier this year, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that he was putting an end to workplace immigration raids. Unsurprisingly, illegal immigration began to skyrocket soon after the policy shift was announced last fall, as migrants realized that once they made it into the United States, they'd be able to work under the table with little chance of detention and deportation.

Word spread in impoverished communities around the world, and folks started making preparations to illegally migrate to the United States, where even the lowest wages and worst working conditions are often better than what's available in their home countries.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas presented the end of ICE workplace raids as compassionate. He's wrong: It's not. It will only incentivize more illegal immigration and lead to more human suffering, as unscrupulous employers realize they can abuse undocumented workers with virtual impunity.

Ending the raids effectively grants amnesty not to undocumented workers but to the most inhumane, criminal employers in the country. After all, their illegal hiring isn't a victimless crime. Honest citizens and legal immigrants get passed over for jobs that would otherwise be theirs. Wages fall. And of course, the illegal workers themselves often face appalling abuse.

It has already happened in industries like agriculture, construction, and meatpacking, and the practice will only spread as long as the government turns a blind eye.

Consider a recent example from Georgia, where a human smuggling ring trafficked 200 undocumented workers across the border to work in conditions a U.S. attorney described as "modern-day slavery." These farm workers were bartered like cattle and sexually assaulted.

ICE arrest
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officers arrest an undocumented Mexican immigrant during a raid in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn on April 11, 2018 in New York City. New York is considered a "sanctuary city" for undocumented immigrants, and ICE receives little or no cooperation from local law enforcement. ICE said that officers arrested 225 people for violation of immigration laws during the 6-day operation, the largest in New York City in recent years. John Moore/Getty Images

Scofflaw employers have almost total control over undocumented workers, who know that any complaints about unsafe working conditions or unfair labor practices could cause their managers to summarily fire them—or report them to ICE.

As a recent story in the progressive magazine The American Prospect details, contractors often stiff undocumented workers injured on their job sites, leaving them on the hook for ruinous medical bills. Particularly cruel contractors will even report their injured employees to ICE rather than provide medical care.

Moreover, by effectively ignoring illegal hiring, the government is complicit in driving down wages for blue-collar Americans. The presence of undocumented workers in the labor force suppresses the average American's wages by 5 percent, and less-skilled workers by as much as 12 percent.

Black Americans, in particular, suffer. One study showed that mass migration could be responsible for around 60 percent of the Black-white wage gap. Honest employers also lose out because they can't compete with the artificially low wages and inflated margins of their exploitive rivals.

The prospect of a raid keeps many employers at the margin honest, which in turn helps keep illegal immigration levels down. During his first week in office, President Trump signed executive orders expanding the use of workplace raids, along with other border security and immigration enforcement measures. In just a few months, illegal immigration fell 70 percent, to a 17-year low. Not coincidentally, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, workers' wages rose faster for the bottom 10 percent than the top 10 percent of American earners, and fastest of all among Blacks and Latinos.

Taking away that deterrent incentivizes employers and migrants alike to flout the law.

Just a few months after President Biden took office and reversed the Trump-era immigration policies, the southern border was overrun. 2021 saw the highest number of illegal crossings ever recorded, along with a looming humanitarian crisis. 2022 promises to be even worse, with Border Patrol prepping for 18,000 daily migrant encounters—more than double the current rate—starting later this spring.

Raids deter illegal immigration and help prevent the worst sorts of workplace abuses. Ending them helps no one except the unscrupulous companies that use de facto slave labor to pad their bottom lines.

Mark Thies, Ph.D. is an engineering professor at Clemson University whose research is focused on energy and sustainability.

The views in this article are the writer's own.