Business & Economy

When ICE agents show up at work, what should the boss do?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detain an immigrant on Oct. 14, 2015 in Los Angeles.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detain an immigrant on Oct. 14, 2015 in Los Angeles.
John Moore/Getty Images

The state Assembly has approved a bill that would require California employers to ask federal immigration agents for a warrant before allowing them into the workplace. 

Immigration advocates expect more raids under the Trump administration and wanted to create legislation to better protect California workers who are in the U.S. illegally, said Sandra Diaz, political director of the Service Employees International Union, which co-wrote AB 450 with Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

Federal law already requires ICE agents to get judicial warrants before entering a workplace, and employers have the right to ask to see the warrant before granting them entry. Diaz said employers don’t always ask to see warrants because they fear they’ll be seen as confrontational, leading ICE to investigate them more aggressively. The bill seeks to create create cover for employers, who would be able to tell federal agents that state law requires them to ask for a warrant.

"When you have every employer doing this in the state, it’s harder [for ICE] to single them out," Diaz said.

The law would also ensure federal agents get warrants in advance, she said, adding that during the George W. Bush administration there were instances when ICE agents raided businesses without getting warrants.

"In many ways, this protects employers from being randomly selected with no probable cause," Diaz said. 

AB 450 would also require employers to ask federal agents for subpoenas before handing over employee personnel records, primarily I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms. Employers would also be required to inform their workers when such personnel records were subpoenaed.

"At that point, [the employers] can explain their rights and the process," said Diaz. "It allows the workers to ask questions and to be aware." 

The measure still must be approved by the Senate and get Gov. Jerry Brown's signature before becoming law.

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

The measure would also require employers to notify California's Labor Commissioner when immigration agents have subpoenaed employee records or have appeared at a work site. Diaz said this would give the state a better accounting of the number of immigration raids and audits on California businesses.

The California Chamber of Commerce and a variety of business organizations oppose the bill. In a statement, the chamber said the legislation would prevent employers from choosing how they want to cooperate with ICE, and it assumes employers are violating the law.

"An employer that is in full compliance with federal immigration laws and chooses to minimize disruption of business operations by federal officials by exercising their right to cooperate with federal enforcement officials will be penalized" by the bill's "steep penalties" of not less than $2,000 and up to $10,000, the statement said.