WASHINGTON – Stepping into the political minefield of immigration reform, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano soon will direct federal agents to emphasize targeting U.S. employers for arrest and prosecution in connection with the illegal laborers who sneak into the country to work for them, department officials said Monday.
The shift in emphasis will be outlined in revamped field guidelines issued to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as early as this week, several officials familiar with the change said. The policy is in keeping with comments that President Barack Obama made during his campaign for office, when he said past enforcement efforts failed because they focused on illegal immigrants rather than the companies that hired them.
“There is a supply side and a demand side,” one Homeland Security official said. “Like other law-enforcement philosophies, there is a belief that by focusing more on the demand side, you cut off the supply.”
Another DHS official said the changes were the result of a broad review of immigration and border-security programs and policies that Napolitano launched in her first days in office. “She is focused on using our limited resources to the greatest effect, targeting criminal aliens and employers that flout our laws and deliberately cultivate an illegal work force,” that official said.
Homeland Security officials emphasized that the department would not stop conducting sweeps of businesses while more structural changes to U.S. immigration law and policy were being contemplated.
Agents, however, will be held to a higher standard of probable cause for conducting raids, the officials said, out of concern that at least one recent raid in Washington state and another pending sweep in Chicago were based on speculative information that illegal workers were there. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the policy changes.