- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

The immigration reform bill that the Senate is scheduled to resume debating next week would make it difficult for employers to claim they unknowingly hired illegal aliens, according to reform advocates.

A worker-verification provision in the bill would require employers to check workers’ immigration status online. They would need to maintain paper and electronic versions of employees’ residency documents and could be more heavily fined for hiring illegal aliens.

Current laws make prosecution of employers too difficult to be a realistic deterrent against hiring illegal aliens, critics of immigration policy say.

Documentation required by the proposal would help prosecutors gather the evidence that has eluded them.

“It would be challenging [under current law] to demonstrate after the fact that someone hired an illegal alien,” said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group of 105 members of Congress seeking to reform immigration laws.

Illegal aliens now can use fake Social Security cards or leave a job as soon as they suspect Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are investigating them.

Although Mr. Bardella agreed that employers should be liable for knowingly hiring illegal aliens, meeting the standard of proof for court cases is demanding.

A required check of workers’ residency status would show whether they are illegal.

“If they still moved forward knowing that, I think it’s safe to say that employer knowingly hired an illegal immigrant,” he said.

So far, arrests and prosecution by ICE has focused only on aliens, say some immigration policy critics.

Laws forbidding employers from hiring illegal aliens “have never been enforced on any meaningful level,” said Carlos Espinosa, spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who advocates tougher laws to prevent illegal entries. “They’re not going after the main people, or if they do, they’re not successful.”

Only rarely are corporate executives charged, he said.

“Within a few months, the charges are dropped after they pay a fine,” Mr. Espinosa said.

Mr. Tancredo, who is running for the 2008 presidential nomination, said the proposed immigration bill is too lax on illegal aliens, except for the worker-verification system.

Mr. Espinosa mentioned the December raids on meatpacking plants of Swift & Co. in six states as an example of a shortsighted immigration-enforcement policy.

About 1,200 illegal aliens were arrested, but no company executives were charged.

“You get that kind of evidence, and still no one’s punished except the illegals,” Mr. Espinosa said.

Swift & Co. denied any wrongdoing.

“We did not knowingly hire illegal aliens,” said Sean McHugh, Swift & Co. spokesman.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an advocacy group, blames industries that hire illegal aliens for blocking a government worker-verification system that could check residency as easily as when using a credit card to make a purchase.

“There’s no technological reason you couldn’t have a Social Security document that does the same thing,” said FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman.

If employers hire aliens after the system shows they are illegal, he recommends penalties on the employers similar to the fines and prosecution used by the Internal Revenue Service against tax cheaters.

“You’ve got to make it hurt,” Mr. Mehlman said.

ICE officials say they are making progress to deter hiring of illegal aliens.

In one case this week, a federal grand jury issued indictments against three Baltimore-area men charged with harboring illegal aliens.

The three defendants are accused of running an employment agency, called Jones Industrial Network, for illegal aliens to fill temporary jobs.

“Targeting employers who violate immigration laws is a critical element of our successful enforcement strategy. Not only are these individuals charged with harboring aliens, but also with the money-laundering scheme they created to hid their ill-gotten gains,” said Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Julie L. Myers, who leads ICE.

The indictment says employers would pay Jones Industrial Network by check for use of the temporary employees from January 2004 through March 2007. The defendants — Daniel Jones, Robert Lanahan and Michael Morgan — are accused of cashing the checks and using part of the money to pay the illegal aliens.

ICE investigators said they found computer records of Jones Industrial Network job applicants whose Social Security numbers could not be verified .

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide