Tightened Immigration Enforcement May Put Chinese Restaurants at Risk

(Photo from ICE)

In a memo to all federal prosecutors dated April 11, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed them to bring criminal charges against people who violate immigration law. And, among other violations, harboring or transporting undocumented immigrants should be considered priorities. Immigration attorneys said many Chinese restaurants outside of New York City provide jobs as well as lodging and meals and transportation to undocumented immigrants. And these can be considered “harboring” and “transporting” [the immigrants] under the memo and make the restaurants targets of law enforcement.

In the memo, Sessions required federal prosecutors to consider criminal prosecution of anyone who transports and harbors undocumented immigrants. When resources are limited, those who bring three or more foreigners into the U.S. illegally, those who provide transportation and room and board to three or more undocumented immigrants, and those who cause serious injuries, death or commit sexual assault during the harboring and transportation should be the priority of law enforcement.

Immigration attorneys said it is a common practice for Chinese restaurants outside of New York City, especially those in the Midwest, to provide transportation and lodging and board to their employees. They may be considered priorities in this new wave of raids.

Margaret Wong, an immigration attorney, said the memo shows how determined Sessions is to crack down on undocumented immigrants. She expects the federal law enforcement on immigration to be greatly tightened.

Ting Li, another immigration attorney, said Chinese restaurants in the inland area often provide meals and a place to stay for their employees, and they often provide a van to transport employees. And these behaviors fit perfectly in the definitions of “harboring” and “transporting.” So the owners of these restaurants may soon become targets of law enforcement and it would be hard for them to defend themselves in court.

Li also pointed out that “harboring” is a more serious violation than “hiring.” The consequence of being convicted for harboring could be very serious. While landlords do not have the responsibility of checking the immigration status of their tenants, those who lease their properties to undocumented immigrants could argue that they are not aware of the situation. But it would be hard for employers to say they don’t know the immigration status of their employees. So they can hardly defend themselves if they are found to have provided transportation and meals and room to undocumented employees.

Li added that the parents who provided smuggling fees to help their children get into the U.S. could face trouble too as enforcement is tightening up. When the children become U.S. citizens and apply for family-based immigration for their parents, the parents could be asked at the interview whether they provided the smuggling fee for their children. If the answer is yes, the parents could be considered “snakeheads.”

Li said the only way for employers to avoid getting into trouble is to not provide lodging and board to employees. Wong said it is not easy to fill job openings for restaurants outside of New York. So providing free lodging and board and transportation have been common practice to retain employees. But in the current situation, employers may want to consider providing extra stipends so the employees can rent a place to stay and pay for transportation themselves.

Many immigrant rights organizations issued statements condemning Sessions’s memo and criticized the attorney general for criminalizing the entire immigrant community. Javier Valdes, executive director of Make the Road New York, said that Sessions’s memo threatens those who stand together with undocumented immigrants and provide them homes and protection. It leaves the immigrant community in fear and [generates] distrust.

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