Thursday, July 02, 2009

Paper Raids

Last week, I posted on the fact that President Obama had apparently decided that an immigration reform plan was going to be delayed until after the 2010 elections to make it easier for Democrats running for re-election. That, however, doesn't mean that the White House is going to simply ignore the issue. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the government will still be in the business of trying to root out undocumented workers. The emphasis, however, will be a little different.

Federal officials Wednesday notified more than 650 businesses around the country, including nearly 50 in Los Angeles, that their records will be audited as part of a widening effort to find companies that hire illegal immigrants. ...

The Obama administration has made tougher enforcement aimed at employers a cornerstone of its immigration policy. In April, the federal government issued new guidelines to immigration agents instructing them to focus on employers who hire illegal immigrants rather than just to arrest workers. The government is also working to improve and expand an employment verification program. The targeted companies, which include firms in New York, San Antonio, Seattle and San Diego, were identified through tips and leads, officials said.

I have to admit that the shift is certainly an improvement over the Bush policy of sweeping through factories, rousting all brown people, charging many with a crime and convincing them to plead guilty so that they can be immediately deported, and hitting the employer with a relatively minor fine for hiring 'illegals.' Still, the new policy looks to be nothing more than some posturing to set up the debate on the issue when it finally comes up. In the mean time, a lot of people who really are entitled to their jobs will be discharged or not hired in the first place, by companies who have been following the law with respect to I-9 requirements.

Currently, employers are required to fill out the I-9 form after the job applicant provides documentary proof of the right to work: usually a social security card and a government issued form of identification (e.g., a driver's licence). The companies are urged to verify the social security number via the e-verify system, but they are not required to, something the feds have long wanted changed. The problem is that the Social Security Administration's data banks are deeply flawed and unreliable, so most companies don't bother. Now those same companies are facing stiff fines if immigration agents find a pattern of some sort, a pattern presumably based on those same flawed data banks.

I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a Chamber of Commerce official on the issue:

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce president and Chief Executive Gary Toebben said in a statement Wednesday that ICE should concentrate efforts on companies that have a "clear history of worker exploitation" of wage-and-hour and health-and-safety laws. "Mass enforcement actions against employers who are complying with their I-9 obligations can be devastating to these businesses and our overall economy," he said.

Waiting another year or two to open the debate while engaging in some fancy foot work now just seems foolish to me, especially in this economy.



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