Illegal Workers in US Stay (for now)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 10/11/2007 12:37:00 AM
Call me cynical, but you know that election season nears when the US government starts cracking down on illegal immigrants. Migration's support in the US is an odd coalition made up of business entities which benefit from inexpensive labor from south of the border and of Latin interest groups. While this odd mix has clout in the sense that the Chamber of Commerce is not exactly small fry and Latin voters do have growing electoral clout, politicians may still believe that these factors are outweighed by the unpopularity of migration in general. For example, a recent Pew Attitudes survey found that 75% of Americans agreed "We should further restrict and control migration."

In this instance, a federal judge stopped the Bush administration from cracking down on illegal immigrants in the wake of failed immigration reform proposals in Congress. The judge cites difficulties in identifying just who is an illegal immigrant based on Social Security records which are subject to inaccuracies. Indeed, other labor groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined in voicing their concerns that some may be unfairly singled out based on faulty documentation. How often do you see the US Chamber of Commerce and the ACLU lining up on the same side? However, I wouldn't be surprised if this halt proves temporary as anti-immigrant sentiment is undoubtedly strong, especially in certain parts of the Republican Party. From the Washington Post:
A federal judge barred the Bush administration today from launching a planned crackdown on U.S. firms that hire illegal immigrants, warning of the plan's potentially "staggering" impact on law-abiding workers and companies.

Issuing a firm rebuke of the White House, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer of San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction against the government's plan to pressure employers to fire up to 8.7 million workers with suspect Social Security numbers starting this fall.

President Bush made that plan the centerpiece of a re-energized enforcement effort against illegal immigration after the Senate rejected his proposed legislation to overhaul immigration laws this summer. But the ruling -- made at the behest of major American labor, business and farm organizations -- highlighted the chasm that the immigration fight has opened between the Republican Party and its traditional business allies.

The ruling also called attention to the gulf between Washington politicians' rhetoric about the need to curtail illegal immigration and the economic reality of many U.S. employers' reliance on illegal labor, as well as to the government's inability to find adequate tools for identifying illegal workers.

Breyer said the plaintiffs, an unusual coalition that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union, had raised such serious questions about the plan to mail Social Security "no-match" letters to 140,000 U.S. employers that it should be blocked from proceeding.

"There can be no doubt that the effects of the rule's implementation will be severe," Breyer wrote, resulting in "irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers."

The government letters were intended to warn employers that they must resolve questions about their employees' identities or fire them within 90 days. If they did not, employers could face "stiff penalties," including fines and even criminal prosecutions for violating a federal law that bars knowingly employing illegal workers, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in announcing the plan Aug. 10.

But the plaintiffs persuaded the judge that the Social Security database was plagued by so many errors that its use in firings would unfairly discriminate against tens of thousands of legal workers and cause sweeping workforce disruptions that would burden companies.

"The government's proposal to disseminate no-match letters affecting more than eight million workers will, under the mandated time line, result in the termination of employment to lawfully employed workers," the judge wrote. "Moreover the threat of criminal prosecution . . . reflects a major change in DHS [Department of Homeland Security] policy."

His ruling dealt in part with the interpretation of a 1980 law, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, that is meant to protect small-business owners from excessive government red tape.

Randel K. Johnson, a vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling was a strong case that federal agencies can no longer ignore the 1980 act, which requires the government to calculate the cost before imposing new regulations that significantly burden small business.

"It says the government cannot do anything it wants simply in the name of enforcement. They've got to be careful about building their record and complying with the law," Johnson said.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment immediately, pending official review. Independent analysts said an appeal is expected.