- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Recent movement to stall a California judge’s ruling on a proposed immigration enforcement measure gives reason for trepidation. We worry it could indicate laxity in the Bush administration’s efforts to finally begin enforcing the nation’s immigration policies after last summer’s immigration debacle. At issue is a pending lawsuit under Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for Northern California that would block the Homeland Security Department from enforcing a new rule encouraging employers to verify their employees’ Social Security numbers within 90 days or face potential prosecution.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and American Civil Liberties Union joined forces to sue the government after the new enforcement measure was announced, claiming it places excessive strain on employers and could harm legal residents who lack proper Social Security numbers due to clerical errors.

Last month, Judge Breyer (brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer) slapped a temporary restraining order on Social Security authorities, preventing them from sending employers the so-called no-match letters. The 140,000 letters explain to an employer that an employee’s name and Social Security number do not match and contain a Homeland Security insert telling employers to clear up discrepancies or be liable for punitive action, including raids by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ironically, the guidance was created by DHS at the behest of small and large business owners, who requested explicit instructions on how to verify their employees’ status in order to avoid prosecution. Under the rule, employers who follow the outlined verification procedures would be safe from legal action, whether from former employees or the government.

Last week, officials from the Justice Department asked Judge Breyer to delay moving his case forward until as late as March 24 while the administration moves to re-propose the rule with more palatable language. Judge Breyer has specific changes he’d like to see before he might sign off on the measure, concerns ranging from Homeland Security’s jurisdiction over immunity for employers to a more comprehensive analysis of the rule’s impact on small businesses (incidentally, businesses with 10 or fewer employees do not receive these no-match letters) and further justification for the rule.

“We’re not backing down. We’re not retreating,” Homeland Security spokesman Laura Keehner told The Washington Times. “We are certainly intent on moving the rule forward once some minor adjustments have been made.”

We’d like to take the administration at its word, and hope it will act promptly to resolve Judge Breyer’s concerns.

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