It looks like the Trump administration is making good on one particular campaign promise: significantly increasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids this year. The latest ICE enforcement action occurred at two locations of Ohio-based Corso’s Flower and Garden Center. Two hundred ICE officers swarmed the Sandusky and Castalia locations, initially undercover, according to a worker at one of the locations.
Salma Sabala, an employee at Corso’s told WNWO, a local Ohio news channel, that undercover ICE agents appeared in an employee break room to hand out donuts, but quickly began rounding people up instead.
A total of 114 suspected undocumented immigrants were arrested and put on buses headed to detention centers in St. Clair County, Michigan; Seneca County, Ohio; and the Youngstown, Ohio area. Families of those arrested were left wondering where their loved ones were–dozens of children were stranded in day-care centers or with babysitters.
According to the Washington Post, Thomas D. Homan, deputy director and senior official performing the duties of the director for ICE, said he ordered agents to increase the number of worksite inspections and operations by “four or five times” this year.
Homan said it’s meant to “deter people from entering the country illegally and protect jobs for American workers.”
Doris Meissner, who was head of the agency that preceded ICE, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, from 1993 to 2000, previously told the New York Times that “work-site raids don’t work in the long term because they fail to address the real magnet drawing people into the country: a need for laborers.”
She added that without a visa system allowing unmet labor needs to be addressed with foreigners, ICE shouldn’t expect patchwork enforcement stings to persuade farms, hotels or meatpackers to stop employing unauthorized workers.
Which is exactly what the Ohio Landscape Association wrote on Facebook the morning of the raid at Corso’s: “There is not a large enough workforce to fill our seasonal positions. We need congress to pass legislation to provide more Visas [sic] now. The additional 15,000 Visas [sic] being issued does not meet the need.”
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security capped the number of H-2B visas, which employers can use to hire seasonal immigrant workers, at 66,000 workers per year. Business owners stated that they were hard pressed to find workers, so Homeland Security said it would allow 15,000 additional workers for 2018.
Responding to the raid, the Ohio Landscape Association told the Washington Post, “This is not good, but maybe highlights the need for usable guest worker programs.”
ICE officials claim to have been receiving tips about Corso’s for years, but didn’t start probing the business until October 2017 after authorities arrested Martha Buendia-Chavarria, who was suspected of operating a document mill. She was indicted in December 2017 on charges of possessing fake identify documents with intent to transfer them.
After reviewing 313 employee records, ICE found 123 that were suspicious. Authorities expect to charge the undocumented workers with identity theft and tax evasion. They are also currently investigating the role the employer played in hiring undocumented workers, but nothing has been filed against them yet.
In the meantime, there is at least one reported case of a U.S. citizen minor, aged 16, who is “being detained until an adult relative with documentation comes to claim him. So far, no one has been able to,” said Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, founder and executive director of Latino advocacy group HOLA Ohio.