Last Friday, a federal judge in San Francisco stopped the Department of Homeland Security from beginning its crackdown aimed at U.S. employers who hire undocumented workers. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a coaliton of labor, civil rights, and immigrant rights activists.
U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney's ruling has delayed the DHS plan, whereby the Social Security Administration would send "no-match" letters to employers when any of their workers' names did not correspond to the Social Security numbers used by workers when applying for a job.
The letters were scheduled to be sent [yesterday]] to about 140,000 employers with at least 10 workers whose names and Social Security numbers don't match. Under the Homeland Security rule, the affected companies would have to resolve any discrepancies within 90 days or face sanctions.
In recent years, the Social Security Administration has found that up to 10 percent of workers have suspect numbers, whether because of fraud, innocent typographical errors, confusion over name changes, multiple surnames or other reasons.... If they do not comply, businesses face the possibility of fines and even criminal penalties for knowingly violating federal law that bars employing illegal workers.
The DHS plan, a centerpiece of the Bush Administration's push to get tough on illegal immigrants, has not been popular with business, labor, immigration, or civil liberties organizations.
Businesses fear the letters will cause workplace disruptions across industries heavily dependent on immigrant labor, such as agriculture and meatpacking. Businesses have asked the Bush Administration for 180-day delay before implementation, and they seek answers to 80 questions regarding compliance with immigration laws and antidiscrimination statutes.
Civil liberties, immigration, and labor organizations—such as the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union—responsible for the lawsuit, oppose the DHS plan for two reasons. First, they argue the Social Security database is rife with errors and will result in the unfair firing of legal workers. Second, they believe it will lead to job discrimination against legal immigrants and resident workers as employers fire, or shy away from hiring, immigrant labor, frightened mistakes could result in costly fines or criminal penalties.
The ruling was a strategic, albeit possibly temporary, victory for the nation's largest labor organization.
As the AFL-CIO's blog points out, legal immigrant labor makes up 12.3 percent of all unionized workers while the " number of immigrant workers who are union members grew by 30 percent from 1996 to 2006. At the same time, the number of native-born union members decreased by some 9 percent."
A hearing, which will let DHS argue against a request for a permanent injunction to implementing its rule, will be held October 1.