Few Prosecuted for Illegal Employment of Immigrants

Table 1. Criminal Prosecution of Employers
(8 USC 1324a)
Number Latest Month 0
Number Previous Month 0
Number Previous 12 Months 11
Number 5 Years Ago 11
Number 10 Years Ago 16

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "ICE's worksite enforcement strategy focuses on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.[1]" However, actual prosecution of employers for employing immigrants without proper documentation actually has been relatively rare. For example, the latest available data show that during the last twelve months (April 2018 - March 2019) only 11 individuals (and no companies) were prosecuted in just 7 cases. There were no prosecutions during either of the last two months. See Table 1.

During the same period, these 11 prosecutions compare with 85,727 individuals prosecuted for illegal entry, 34,617 prosecuted for illegal re-entry, and 4,733 prosecuted for illegally bringing in or harboring immigrants. Given the millions of undocumented immigrants now living and working in this country, the odds of being criminally prosecuted for employing undocumented workers appears to be exceedingly remote.

Indeed, since criminal penalties for employers were first enacted by Congress in 1986, few employers have ever been prosecuted under these provisions (8 USC 1324a). Prosecutions have rarely climbed above 15 annually, and have never exceeded 20 individuals a year except for brief periods during 2005 under President Bush, and in the first year of the Obama Administration.

These results are based upon case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. These data were obtained from the Justice Department as a result of litigation brought by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act.

Year-to-year fluctuations in the prosecution of employers are shown more clearly in Figure 1. Each bar represents the annual total number of prosecutions over the previous 12 months for the period covering March 2004 through March 2019. Prosecutions of employers since President Trump assumed office roughly parallel the number that occurred during all but the first year of the Obama Administration.

Figure 1. Criminal Prosecution of Employers (8 USC 1324a)
(Click for larger image)

Not only are few employers prosecuted, fewer who are convicted receive sentences that amount to more than token punishment. Prison sentences are rare. For example, of the 11 individuals the Justice Department reported as convicted during the most recent 12- month period for which data are available (April 2018 - March 2019), only 3 were sentenced to serve prison time.


[1] https://www.ice.gov/worksite

TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.