Updated below with Department of Homeland Security Response
Michelle Obama joined Mexico’s first lady, Margarita Zavala, at a school in suburban Washington DC today, where everyone ran around, bounced balls and talked about sports. But during the Q&A that followed, a second grade student asked a question that was more piercing than anything that happened in the official Rose Garden press conference with the presidents of Mexico and the U.S.
STUDENT: Mrs. Obama, I have a question.
OBAMA: What’s your question?
STUDENT: I have a question. My mom said — my mom said that — I think that she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.
OBAMA: Yeah, well, that’s something that we have to work on, right, to make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exactly right.
STUDENT: But my mom doesn’t have…
OBAMA: Yeah, well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that, and that everybody has got to work together in Congress to make sure that that happens. That’s right.
As I wrote in January, the Obama Administration has actually significantly stepped up the enforcement of immigration laws at major employers across the country, leading many people like the young girls mother, without papers, to lose their jobs.
In November, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced 1,000 new audits of employers suspected of employing illegal immigrants. This followed a July announcement of audits of 654 companies, which included reviews of more than 85,000 employee records and the discovery of more than 14,000 suspect documents. As a result of the crackdown, thousands of undocumented workers were fired from their jobs.”On the enforcement side, we are really stepping up our efforts to audit employers, to investigate employers for knowing violations, to fine them and to prosecute them when appropriate,” says John Morton, Obama’s choice as director of ICE. “We are doing it on a much larger scale than it was done before.”
According to government records, 1,897 workplace enforcement cases were initiated from April 30 to Nov. 19 of 2009, compared with 605 cases during the same period a year earlier under the Bush Administration. In Los Angeles, the designer-clothing company American Apparel fired about 1,800 employees in September following an ICE audit of employee records. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., the contract company ABM fired about 1,200 unionized janitors after a similar investigation.
That said, the Obama Administration has stopped the Bush Administration practice of workplace raids, which led to situations where parents faced deportations even though their children were U.S. citizens.
UPDATE: Matt Chandler, the Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Press Secretary, put out this statement on the second grader’s question: “ICE is a federal law enforcement agency that focuses on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes criminal aliens who pose a threat to our communities. Our investigations are based on solid law enforcement work and not classroom Q and As.”