What to Do If ICE Raids Your Workplace

We asked a lawyer what rights employers, colleagues, and undocumented workers have in the event of an ICE raid.
July 17, 2019, 5:56pm
Photo by Evelyn Hockstein via Getty Images.

This past weekend, Trump-authorized ICE raids targeting undocumented residents in major cities began. The administration held off on executing all the raids initially intended, reportedly because it felt that immigrants had received too much advanced warning, but the rest are expected soon.

To prepare, immigrant rights organizations across the country have urgently dispersed Know Your Rights materials to those most likely to be targeted. These graphics and lists describe what to do both as a documented and undocumented person if ICE comes to your home. Namely: check to see if they have a judge-issued warrant to enter, remain silent, request a lawyer, and do not sign anything.


But homes are not the only place where ICE raids take place. “Unlike a household, employers are regulated by ICE,” says Jessie Hahn, Labor and Employment Policy Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). “ICE does have certain powers to investigate employers because they are the federal agency tasked with employer compliance with the I-9 form.”

ICE has an entire division dedicated to “worksite enforcement investigations,” otherwise known as Form I-9 audits, to ensure that businesses aren’t employing people who are undocumented. Despite ICE’s claim that targeting employers is the focus of their worksite enforcement strategy, the criminal prosecution rate of employers who hire undocumented people is very low, at just 11 individual cases in the last year. The number of people arrested during these raids, however, the majority of whom are undocumented, was much higher: 2,304. While ICE purports to be targeting employers who hire undocumented people, the numbers reveal that these operations overwhelmingly target undocumented employees, a tactic the Trump Administration officially adopted in January of 2018.

We spoke to Hahn about what rights employers have in the event of an ICE raid, and where ICE can and cannot enter in a workplace. Keep in mind, however, that this is only a bit of general guidance and should not be taken as legal advise. And the National Immigration Law Center encourages all employers to follow legal hiring practices.


• Discuss specifics in advance. If you employ undocumented people, you should educate yourself and your employees ahead of time about measures you both can take if ICE shows up at your workplace. This includes training employees to remain silent, not run away, and, according to NILC and the National Employment Law Project (NELP), practicing phrases like “I can’t give you permission to enter. You must speak with my employer.”

• Equip employees with written material. Hahn suggests giving employees printed cards that they can keep on them or somewhere in the workplace. That way, if ICE does come by, employees can hand them these cards to explain why they’re refusing to speak to officers and point out that they’re well within their rights to do so.

• Talk to a lawyer ahead of time. Find an affordable or pro-bono immigration lawyer or organization to refer your employees to in the case of an ICE raid, and an immigration lawyer for your business before you or your employees actually need one.

Be clear on what’s public space and what isn’t. Unlike your home, parts of your workplace may be public. ICE is allowed to enter public areas without a warrant, and may stop, question, or even arrest people in the space. ICE, however, is not allowed to enter private areas of your workplace without a judicial warrant, something you can remind them of if they try. It may help to put up signs in your workplace designating certain areas as private so that there are no questions about where ICE is and isn’t allowed to be without a judicial warrant.


“If, for example, you’re talking about a restaurant, the eating and dining area of a restaurant are considered public and [ICE] would not need any kind of warrant to questions people in that area,” says Hahn. “But if they were to go into the back of the house, that would be considered a private area.”

• Remember that not all warrants are judicial warrants. Judicial warrants must say “U.S. District Court” or the name of a state court at the top and be signed by a court judge. ICE may present you with an administrative warrant, which will say “Department of Homeland Security” on it, indicating that it is not from a court. These warrants do not grant ICE access to private places in your workplace. If ICE presents you with an administrative warrant or no warrant, they may only enter private spaces with your permission.

• Instruct your employees to stay calm during an ICE raid. Catching people running can give ICE a legal reason to go after and/or arrest workers.

• Remember that you are not required to give ICE any information about employees, including whether or not they are working at the time of the raid. Instead, you can stay silent and ask for a lawyer.

  • Remember that if you are documented, you have an immense privilege over your undocumented coworkers during an ICE raid. Because of this, consider volunteering to record or take photos of the raid, especially since your undocumented coworkers may be more scared to do so. This footage may help prove that ICE violated your rights and/or that of your employees.

If ICE does arrest any of your coworkers or employees, ask ICE where they are taking them so that you can help your coworker’s family and lawyer locate them in the aftermath of a raid.

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