Improve bureaucracy to crack down on illegal immigration
A federal judge has halted a plan to force companies to fire employees whose Social Security records are flawed.
Incompetence within the federal bureaucracy has resulted in a severe setback in the Bush administration's attempt to crack down on U.S. companies hiring illegal immigrants. A judge's ruling in California should propel the Social Security Administration to improve its performance before the government relaunches its strategy to curb illegal immigration.
The strategy's key ingredient seemed promising: Employers were to be required to obtain valid Social Security information for an employee. If errors were not corrected within 90 days of receiving "no match" letters notifying them of discrepancies, the employee would have to be fired.
The problem is that the agency's database is riddled with errors. Its inspector general has estimated that 17.8 million of the agency's 435 million individual records have discrepancies that could trigger no-match letters, and 12.7 million of those belong to native-born Americans.
The Pew Hispanic Center analysis estimated in 2005 that 7.2 million illegal immigrants account for at least 10 percent of low-skilled workers in the United States, many of them in farming, cleaning, construction and food preparation jobs. Most of the estimated 9,000 illegal aliens in Hawaii work at farms on Maui and the Big Island; Hawaii employers were reportedly targeted to receive 127 of the 141,000 no-match letters that were ready to be sent out covering more than 8 million employees.
More than 35,000 of the letters were set to be mailed to companies in California before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyers of that state's northern district ordered an indefinite delay. Letting the plan go forward would have resulted in "irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers," Breyers wrote.
Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, said the government was doing "as much administratively as we can, within the boundaries of the law," but that is clearly not the case. Breyers pointed out that many of the errors resulting in no-match letters were unrelated to a worker's immigration status.
Those problems have surfaced in a pilot program covering about 23,000 employers that voluntarily participate in checking Social Security information. During a recent two-year period, the agency wrongly rejected 11 percent of foreign-born U.S. citizens and 1.3 percent of authorized foreign-born noncitizens, according to a report to Congress.
An appeal of Breyers' ruling could take at least nine months. During that time, the administration should correct problems in the Social Security Administration while improving and expanding temporary worker programs that Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez has said "are not workable."
Those include a nonagricultural guest-worker program now capped at 122,000 jobs, including exemptions, in areas ranging from tourism to landscaping. Farms or ranches legally employ 37,000 foreign nonimmigrants, accounting for only 2 percent of their work force.