Monday, October 15, 2007

Judge Halts Bush Attempt to Make Employers Immigration Cops

I strongly agree with the following editorial, originally in the New York Times and adopted today as an editorial by the Houston Chronicle:

A crackdown on hold

A federal judge has halted a reckless plan by the Bush administration to use Social Security records for immigration enforcement. This is good news, not just for the American economy, which would have been crippled by the attempt to force millions of undocumented workers off the books, but also for the untold numbers of innocent citizens and legal residents who also would have been victims of the purge.

The judge, Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California, ruled that the Department of Homeland Security could not enforce a new rule requiring employers to fire workers if their Social Security numbers could not be verified within 90 days. The assumption behind the rule was that workers whose numbers did not match the Social Security Administration's database were illegal immigrants using fake or stolen identities.

Breyer recognized that assumption as deeply flawed and the new rule as an unlawfully crude enforcement tool. The Social Security database is riddled with errors not related to immigration status. Many of the "no-match" letters — which call attention to database discrepancies — involve legal residents.

"There is a strong likelihood that employers may simply fire employees who are unable to resolve the discrepancy within 90 days," the judge wrote, even if the problem was caused by data-entry mistakes, misspellings or name changes. He warned that the rule would cause "irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers."

Breyer also scolded the administration for imposing a policy change with "massive ramifications" for employers without a legal explanation or a required survey of the costs and impact to small businesses.

It is not the case — though infuriated hard-liners will insist otherwise — that millions of undocumented workers are now being let off the hook by a soft-headed judge. If the no-match crackdown had proceeded, many workers without papers would still have found jobs in the underground economy, perhaps worse ones or with better-forged papers.

The shadow economy would have adapted, as always. The world of on-the-books employment would have suffered greatly.

The federal government has embarked on a disastrously one-sided immigration strategy — pulling out one harsh enforcement tool after another without having repaired the broken system. We have already seen the results of runaway enforcement on the agricultural industry — a shortage of workers leading to rotting crops and farmers relocating south of the border. The trouble with crackdowns, like the foolish one involving "no-match" letters, is that they cause oceans of pain and havoc — not just for undocumented immigrants, but also for legal residents and the economy — without actually solving anything.

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