The fear of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Chicago has been high in recent days. Some businesses in neighborhoods like Little Village say they’re having trouble attracting patrons and employees.
It all comes amid a stepped-up immigration crackdown from the Trump administration. Just last week, ICE agents raided food-processing plants in Mississippi, targeting undocumented immigrants.
With very few exceptions, businesses are required to have new workers fill out I-9 forms to prove their identities and work authorization. The government can then check those forms through the online e-verify system, through the Social Security system or by auditing a company’s I-9s.
“I think in this environment, employers have a heightened awareness,” said immigration attorney Elizabeth Rompf Bruen, co-founder of the firm Delgado Rompf Bruen. “But these reviews by immigration (authorities) are not new, they’ve been done before, as long as I’ve been practicing.”
Rompf Bruen doesn’t necessarily think we’ve seen more actual enforcement efforts in Chicago than in years past. “The main difference has been the level of anxiety and fear the rhetoric has been producing in immigrant communities and among immigrant advocates.” She also sees immigration officials using less discretion, making more “collateral arrests” of suspected undocumented immigrants who were not the intended target of raids.
Ismael Enriquez of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Chicago lives in Little Village, which has a large Latino and immigrant population. He says a once-bustling economic driver of the neighborhood is now quiet.
“By 6 p.m., there’s really nobody on 26th Street, and a lot of the restaurants are closing early. Even the retail stores close early because they don’t see a big flow of people walking down 26th Street.”
While advocates for more immigration enforcement say undocumented workers can take away jobs from those legally authorized – and that employers who pay undocumented immigrants less than the minimum wage have an unfair advantage – Enriquez says those low wages also hurt employees.
“A lot of them get paid (below minimum wage), or they are overworked – 60 hours a week, with pay of $10 or $11 an hour. They work overtime, but they don’t get paid overtime,” Enriquez said.