Friday, August 01, 2008
Workforce raids by federal officers have netted a boatload of illegal immigrants but only a carload of law-breaking employers.
Unless employers who break the nation’s immigration laws are held accountable, workplace raids will be a waste of time.
It was obvious more than 20 years ago that the key to combatting illegal immigration was to make it illegal to hire illegal immigrants.
Simply passing a law declaring some activity illegal does little if not accompanied by penalties that are enforced.
That has been the primary reason why U.S. illegal immigration numbers have swelled to more than 12 million since 1986.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 required U.S. employers to provide paperwork to show that they had not hired illegal immigrants. Employers could be fined up to $1,000 for violating the paperwork requirement and up to $10,000 for “knowingly” hiring an unauthorized worker.
Because Congress ignored expert advice to provide a reliable method for employers to tell citizens from non-citizens, the 1986 immigration reform law has been largely ignored.
Since immigration reform again became a hot political issue, federal workplace raids, although still rare, have soared.
Any uptick looks big
Compared to virtually no raids for nearly a generation, any uptick in actually trying to enforce immigration laws appears big.
The government estimates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have rounded up more than 3,700 illegal workers in raids over the past eight months. Only 75 management level employers have been charged with hiring unauthorized workers.
Without volunteered confessions, it’s a good bet that few if any of those employers will face prosecution and even fewer will be found guilty and punished.
Nearly all “undocumented” workers are fully documented. It’s just that their documents are either fraudulent or borrowed. Because the borrowed or rented documents are legal, it is nearly impossible to tell if they actually belong to the person presenting them.
False documents can be purchased on either side of the border. For years, newspapers and television reports have often shown how easy it is to buy false documents.
In 2005, a Houston Chronicle investigative report told how an illegal immigrant was directed to a flea market where he bought a Social Security card and a resident alien card for only $50. The article said false documents are easily bought from people who stroll through the crowd and quietly mutter “micas” — IDs.
There is no requirement that employers use a relatively new government Internet E-Verify program to check the Social Security numbers of their job applicants. Even if they did, the program can’t tell if the person using the Social Security number is the legal owner.
If the government doesn’t have a reliable method to tell a citizen from a non-citizen without conducting a prolonged and expensive background check, then there is no way that employers can be held accountable for hiring illegal immigrants who present apparently legal documents.
In four reports presented to Congress between 1994 and 1997, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform presented a unanimous recommendation that Congress establish a standardized, counterfeit-resistant identification system.
In her testimony to Congress, Barbara Jordan, the chair of that multi-ethnic, bipartisan blue-ribbon commission, said, “Reducing the employment magnet is the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to deter unlawful migration.”
She called for a national computerized identification system so U.S. employers could tell citizens from non-citizens and be held accountable for hiring illegal immigrants.
Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a reliable method to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants. Until then, the nation’s immigration system will continue to be a dysfunctional joke.
Rowland Nethaway’s column appears Wednes- day and Friday. E-mail: RNethaway@wacotrib .com