The Dallas Morning News has an excellent editorial today about a new approach to immigration “raids” at employers:

Any new approach to immigration enforcement almost certainly will raise someone’s hackles, and the Obama administration’s latest innovation, known as “silent raids,” is no exception. As a temporary step while the nation debates comprehensive immigration reform, there is much to praise, but also much to criticize, in this new strategy.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are de-emphasizing the disruptive, headline-grabbing workplace raids such as those in 2006 at Swift meat-packing plants in Cactus, Texas, and other American towns. The raids, in which 1,297 illegal workers were captured, helped satisfy advocates seeking harsh action against millions of undocumented workers.

The problem was that the raids imposed unduly cruel punishments on those captured. They lost all household belongings. Children came home from school to find empty houses and were left to their own devices as their parents were whisked into deportation proceedings.

In the silent raids, ICE auditors comb through businesses’ employee rosters and computer records to identify illegal workers. The employer is notified and fined, as well as warned of additional sanctions if the illegal workers aren’t fired.

“Instead of hundreds of agents going after one company, now one agent can go after hundreds of companies. And there is no drama, no trauma, no families being torn apart, no handcuffs,” immigration-law consultant Mark K. Reed said in a recent news report.

But serious deficiencies exist in this new approach. Without deportation, the tagged immigrant is often free to stay in the U.S. and hunt for new work. And companies caught employing large numbers of illegal immigrants escape the embarrassing “name and shame” coverage that occurred during the raids experienced by companies like Swift. The anonymity of silent raids allows violators to escape public accountability, and that’s not right.

This newspaper favors this more humanitarian approach, albeit with additional tweaks. There should be no ambiguity for illegal workers who are tagged. ICE must follow up with a written or verbal warning: Your days are numbered; clear up your affairs, pack up and leave immediately to avoid forced deportation. A 48-hour warning seems humane but adequately tough.

As for employers, there must be no escaping full public accountability. Embarrassment and bad publicity provide a much-needed deterrent, which is why the occasional raid serves a constructive purpose.

Jobs are generally the reason migrants come here illegally. Those who employ illegal immigrants deserve to be named and shamed so that the magnet of work ceases to exist. That said, comprehensive immigration reform is essential, including provisions for a greatly expanded guest-worker program that gives businesses greater access to low-cost – and legal – immigrant labor.

The goal shouldn’t be to destroy lives and traumatize families. But enforcement must include an unmistakable message that the American workplace is open only to those who enter legally, obtain the proper documents and stay only as long as permitted.