ICE Raid: Latest Worksite Enforcement Action Takes Place in Texas

 

On Tuesday, August 28, 2018, special agents within ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division conducted a surprise targeted enforcement action at Load Trail Trailers, a trailer manufacturing company located in Sumner, Texas, about 100 miles northeast of Dallas. HSI agents executed criminal search warrants and also arrested 160 company employees who were unlawfully working in the U.S.[i]

HSI is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for upholding the laws established by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of the individuals they hire. Regarding the reason for the Texas raid, HSI Special Agent in Charge Katrina Berger said “Business that knowingly hire illegal aliens create an unfair advantage over their competing businesses. In addition, they take jobs away from U.S. citizens and legal residents, and they create an atmosphere poised for exploiting their illegal workforce.”[ii]

The raid was part of an ongoing investigation that reaches back to 2014. Load Trail had already been penalized for hiring illegal aliens to staff its labor force, with over $400,000 in fines for “knowingly hiring and continuing to employ unauthorized workers” – 179 people at that time.[iii] However the fines imposed on business for these types of violations have been pathetically minimal for decades and, if a large fine like this was imposed, companies simply negotiated small installment payments to relieve the burden. In large part, companies just considered the fines to be a small cost of doing business in the United States. Load Trail Trailers had previously told HSI “if they were visited by ICE again, they would simply pay the fine and go on.”[iv]

Unfortunately for Load Trail, this last raid will probably result in more than just fines as the investigation into the repeat offender continues and a criminal indictment looms. HSI had cooperation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, and CBP Air and Marine Operations.[v] (Local law enforcement was not asked to participate.[vi]) Over 300 federal agents participated in some way, and multiple helicopters were deployed during the raid as well.[vii] Caught completely by surprise, one individual stated: “I know I just heard helicopters everywhere and I saw a whole lot of people running and so I turned to run and the first corner I hit I got guns drawn down on me.”[viii] By HSI standards, the enforcement action was conducted smoothly without any serious incidents and nothing that necessitated medical attention.[ix]

For their part, Load Trail Trailers released a brief statement claiming that the company always works diligently to abide by all laws. “The actions today by [ICE] are disappointing, as are the inaccuracies found in most reporting so far. Though we are surprised by today’s developments, we intend to fully cooperate with the government’s investigation – and to make sure the full and accurate Load Trail story is made known.”[x] Load Trail has about 500 employees and received an awards for “Fastest Growing Trailer Brand of the Year” in 2014 and 2015.[xi]

The 160 employees who could not show legal status or authorization to work were placed in detention. Agent Berger stated that “[w]e can’t turn a blind eye to those illegal workers.”[xii] All were interviewed by HHS’ Immigration Health Services division staff to record any medical, sole-caregiver, or other humanitarian considerations.[xiii] Only five individuals out of the 160 taken into custody were immediately released as sole-caregivers and were ordered to appear in court at a later date.[xiv] The remaining aliens were transported to detention facilities in Oklahoma and Texas and await further detention, processing, and possibly removal.[xv] HSI set up a 24-hour hotline — 888-351-4024 — that families can call to find out where their loved ones are.[xvi] After the raid, a co-worker expressed his sympathy for the people that were taken into custody: “They are trying to support their families. I am never going to be against people who want to support their families. But there is a right way to do it.”

Getting off to a slow start with the 7/11 raids in 2017, the Trump Administration has been increasingly active in targeted major employers that hire scores of aliens without work authorization. Asplundh Tree Expert Co. was ordered to pay a record $95 million last year for hiring workers who were in the U.S. illegally.[xvii] Raids in Ohio and Tennessee made headlines this summer and more enforcement actions are expected to follow.[xviii] Agent Berger summed up the Texas enforcement action with a warning to other employers: “You may have gotten away with it but we’re watching and we’re coming.”[xix]

 

Ryan Morgan Knight is an associate attorney with Haynes Novick Immigration in Washington, DC, focusing his practice on a broad spectrum of employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. His previous experience includes removal defense, asylum, family-based petitions, investment visas, consular processing, and administrative/federal appeals.

 

[i] ICE Newsroom Release at: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-criminal-search-warrants-north-texas.

[ii]Id.

[iii] Karma Allen, 160 Undocumented Workers Detained in Texas Immigration Bust, ABC News (August 29, 2018) at: https://abcnews.go.com/US/160-undocumented-workers-detained-texas-immigration-bust/story?id=57467248

[iv] Id.

[v] ICE Newsroom Release at: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-criminal-search-warrants-north-texas.

[vi] Kevin Krause and Dianne Solis, Immigration Raid Targeting Employer Near Paris Nets 160 Suspected Undocumented Workers, Dallas News, August 29, 2018, at: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2018/08/28/immigration-officials-descend-north-texas-company-allegedly-hired-undocumented-immigrants

[vii] Karma Allen, 160 Undocumented Workers Detained in Texas Immigration Bust, ABC News (August 29, 2018) at: https://abcnews.go.com/US/160-undocumented-workers-detained-texas-immigration-bust/story?id=57467248

[viii] Id.

[ix] Prescotte Stokes III, ICE Raids Texas Company for Alleged Illegal Hiring: ‘We’re Watching and We’re Coming, Star Telegram, August 28, 2018 at: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/dallas/article217472740.html.

[x]Load Trail Statement at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sumner-texas-based-load-trail-statement-on-todays-actions-by-immigration-and-customs-enforcement-ice-300703779.html

[xi] Karma Allen, 160 Undocumented Workers Detained in Texas Immigration Bust, ABC News (August 29, 2018) at: https://abcnews.go.com/US/160-undocumented-workers-detained-texas-immigration-bust/story?id=57467248

[xii] Kevin Krause and Dianne Solis, Immigration Raid Targeting Employer Near Paris Nets 160 Suspected Undocumented Workers, Dallas News, August 29, 2018, at: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2018/08/28/immigration-officials-descend-north-texas-company-allegedly-hired-undocumented-immigrants

[xiii] ICE Newsroom Release at: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-criminal-search-warrants-north-texas.

[xiv] Prescotte Stokes III, ICE Raids Texas Company for Alleged Illegal Hiring: ‘We’re Watching and We’re Coming, Star Telegram, August 28, 2018 at: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/dallas/article217472740.html.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] ICE Newsroom Release at: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-criminal-search-warrants-north-texas.

[xvii] Tree Company to Pay Record $95M Fine for Immigration Practices, Associated Press (September 28, 2017) at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tree-company-pay-record-fine-immigration-practices-n805756.

[xviii] See citations at: https://www.dcimmigrationattorney.com/ice-enforcement-actions-against-employers/.

[xix] Prescotte Stokes III, ICE Raids Texas Company for Alleged Illegal Hiring: ‘We’re Watching and We’re Coming, Star Telegram, August 28, 2018 at: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/dallas/article217472740.html.