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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Political opposition from big business, labor and immigrant and civil rights interests has diluted immigration law for two decades

From The Washington Post:

A three-year-old enforcement campaign against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is increasingly resulting in arrests and criminal convictions, using evidence gathered by phone taps, undercover agents and prisoners who agree to serve as government witnesses.

But the crackdown's relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation.

Raids against Swift packinghouses in six states in December 2006 highlight the administration's strategy to seek criminal indictments and felony convictions against corporate violators. An earlier approach that relied on administrative fines and forfeitures was increasingly dismissed by executives as a cost of doing business.

In March, the White House attempted to jump-start a campaign to notify 140,000 employers about workers' use of suspicious Social Security numbers, seeking to force businesses to resolve questions or fire workers within 90 days.

If companies do not respond to "no-match" letters, ICE could use that failure as evidence of illegal hiring. But the plan remains stalled by a federal lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union, which allege that it will disrupt businesses and discriminate against legal U.S. workers.

Also in dispute is another effort to expand use of a voluntary online system that checks whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States. The Bush administration on June 9 ordered 60,000 federal contractors to use the government's E-Verify system, which checks workers' information against Social Security and immigration-status databases.

Still, 12 years after Congress mandated that such a tool be piloted in 1996, the change will enroll about 2 percent of U.S. companies.

Frustrated by the stalemate, Arizona, Missouri and South Carolina since January have passed laws or have begun requiring businesses to use E-Verify under certain conditions. But Illinois has gone the opposite direction, barring companies from participating until the government proves that E-Verify is 99 percent error-free.
The conflicting moves show how opposition has frustrated enforcement of the ban on hiring illegal immigrants. In 1986, Congress required law enforcement agencies to show that an employer knowingly violated the law, but provided few tools, agents or dollars to do so.

Under the law, employers need only to verify that a new hire present at least one "facially valid" form of identification. The overhaul simply created a huge fake-ID industry, while granting unscrupulous employers a ready defense since the government had no system to validate a document's authenticity. At the same time, employers face discrimination complaints if they unduly scrutinize new hires.

Few expect the situation to change soon with this fall's elections looming. Some GOP congressional campaigns are talking tough, but the party is wary of further alienating its traditional business base. Democrats in turn rely on labor and immigrant support, leading the House to propose a $40 billion DHS budget bill that would require ICE to prioritize $800 million in enforcement funding next year to deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records, not workers.

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