By Betsy Woodruff
Federal agents are planning to conduct a major worksite enforcement operation at a national food service chain in the coming weeks, according to an internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The current plan is focused on employers who exploit undocumented workers by illegally paying them below the minimum wage. The operation will target locations around the country and will likely result in charges of “harboring illegal aliens,” according to an ICE official.
“These people are basically being used as slave labor,” said the official, who spoke to The Daily Beast anonymously because he was not permitted to discuss impending operations on the record.
The plans detailed in the document are the strongest indication to date that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are increasing what’s called “worksite enforcement”—meaning, efforts to prosecute people who employ undocumented immigrants. As with all complex law enforcement operations, there’s a chance this one is altered or even scuttled. If it does go according to plan, however, it will be the first major worksite enforcement action of an administration that has promised to prioritize this core ICE mission.
The food service industry is a particularly ripe target, with The Migration Policy Institute estimating that about 9 percent of food service workers in the U.S. are undocumented.
According to the plans, the operation will focus on franchise owners who exploit undocumented workers. The agency has already done preliminary investigations and picked targets, the Daily Beast has learned.
ICE is divided into two components: Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which arrests and detains undocumented immigrants, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which investigates crimes related to customs and migration. HSI agents handle a host of issues, including art forgery, child exploitation, and drug crop eradication. They will also be helming this coming operation.