By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter
he subject of an ongoing immigration audit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, the company has been clearing its books by firing some of its janitorial staff — about 100 people so far — believed to be working illegally.
The probe of Seattle Building Maintenance offers an early glimpse into ICE’s approach to worksite enforcement — stealthily targeting employers rather than workers.
It’s a departure from the big splashy raids that used to play out on the evening news, with large numbers of immigrants being rounded up and carted off to detention, where many faced removal.
Now, workers are quietly let go by their employers, without the direct contact with immigration agents that might lead to deportation.
Immigrant advocates who initially lauded the shift in strategy as more humane are now seeing the impact it has on workers unable to find new jobs in a slow economy, while their employers appear to escape largely unscathed, much as they did under the old policy.
And those who support enforcement say the new policy is shortsighted, that along with not really punishing employers it does nothing to remove illegal immigrants, instead leaving them free to move to the next willing employer.
Service Employees International Union Local 6, which represents about 280 of Seattle Building’s workers, said as many as 150 of them might be undocumented. The company has an estimated workforce of up to 300 people.
The workers are being released not all at once, but in waves, to make it easier for managers to find their replacements, the union said.
Company officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment but in a statement said that the terminations were necessary to comply with federal immigration law and that the company “encourages development and implementation of a rational national immigration policy.”
ICE did not confirm the investigation.