January 26, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Statement on Worksite Enforcement

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, January 26, 2011—  From 2006-2008, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a number of large-scale immigration raids. Some of these
enforcement sweeps made national headlines because of the number of immigrants who were
apprehended. But these raids also became “breaking news” as a result of the response from local leaders
who decried their destructive impact on families, businesses and communities. Lutheran Immigration and
Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States
to serve uprooted people, joined then with community and faith leaders to call on the federal government
to rethink its approach to worksite enforcement – and stands by that challenge today.

The largest single-site immigration raid in history took place in August 2008 at an electrical equipment
plant in Laurel, Mississippi. In total, ICE arrested 595 immigrant workers. Following the raid, many
community members lived in fear – even causing some parents to keep their kids at home instead of
sending them to school. The Rev. H. Julian Gordy, Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and chair of the Conference of Bishops’ immigration task force,
reflected, “Given the harmful impact of these raids, we must reform our immigration enforcement policies
to better protect our communities and families.”

One of the most controversial immigration raids occurred in May 2008 in Postville, Iowa, a small town
with less than 2,400 inhabitants. ICE agents swept in to the town with helicopters and arrested 389
immigrant workers at a meat processing plant, nearly 20 percent of the town’s population. Speaking to
hundreds of community members in Postville shortly after the raid, the Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, ELCA
Bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod, offered the following sobering assessment:

“Businesses are dramatically impacted. Teachers wonder how many jobs will be lost for next year.
Landlords have lost renters, bankers have lost clients, (and) grocery store owners their customers.
People who have been active and responsible members of their community have been lost.”¹

Furthermore, ICE agents used aggressive negotiating tactics and brought charges of aggravated identify
theft against the workers, nearly all of whom were represented by overburdened appointed counsel. The
U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that the federal government overstepped in applying these charges.

Months following the Postville raid, ICE revealed that it had spent over $5.2 million to conduct this one
enforcement operation.² Recognizing the extreme hardship small towns like Postville and Laurel faced,
many questioned whether U.S. taxpayers were benefiting from these costly enforcement operations.

In April 2009, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a shift in policy, issuing
guidance that ICE would focus worksite enforcement resources on the criminal prosecution of employers
who knowingly hired unauthorized immigrant workers. In fiscal year 2010, ICE conducted audits of more
than 2,740 companies and levied nearly $7 million in civil fines on businesses that employed
undocumented workers.³ In addition, ICE recently announced plans to establish an audit office to
strengthen its efforts to investigate businesses’ hiring records.³

Despite ICE’s shift away from large-scale immigration raids, smaller enforcement efforts continue to
impact communities. According to recent media reports, on January 20, 2011, ICE conducted a raid in
Ellensburg, Washington, a city of 17,000 residents. Federal officers apprehended 30 immigrants in their
homes, leaving community members to struggle with the consequences, such as caring for the children
separated from their families. The following day, hundreds of people gathered at a local church to discuss
what happened and how to support those directly affected.

“Communities and families will continue to suffer until the federal government overhauls our immigration
system in a way that strikes a fair balance between America’s commitment to continue welcoming
migrants and the need to enforce U.S. laws,” stated Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “LIRS stands
with all who contribute to build welcoming communities for newcomers and we are committed to working
with the 112th Congress and the Administration to continue to advance bipartisan immigration reforms.”

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Founded in
1939, LIRS assists and advocates on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children,
immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations and provides
services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners.

If you have any questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director of Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

Further Reading:

Read the July 14, 2010 LIRS statement on immigration reform submitted to Congress, “The Ethical Imperative for Reform of our Immigration System.”

Read the May 5, 2009 LIRS statement on the one year anniversary of the Postville immigration raid.

Read the July 24, 2008 statement by LIRS and ELCA Bishop Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod on the impact of the Postville immigration raid submitted to Congress.

Read the May 20, 2008 statement by LIRS and ELCA Bishop Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod on the impact of the Posville immigration raid submitted to Congress.


1. “ELCA Synod Bishop Calls for Immigration Reform,” ELCA News Service, May 20, 2008, accessed, January 24, 2011,

2. William Petroski, “Taxpayers’ Costs Top $5 million for May Raid at Postville,” The Des Moines Register, October 14, 2008, accessed January 24, 2011, http://www.midwesthumanrights.org/taxpayers-costs-top-5-million-may-raid-postville.

3. Miriam Jordan, “Crackdown on Illegal Workers Grows,” Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2011, accessed January 23, 2011,

4. Ibid.