National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Are We Being Given the Business?

July 21, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

Business is the focus of today’s news and opinion on immigration.  Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post takes a front-page look at enforcement against businesses caught hiring unauthorized workers, concluding that the number of criminal prosecutions against employers and supervisors is up, but that barely a dent has been made in the overall immigration mess:

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…

In the first nine months of this fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made 937 criminal arrests at U.S. workplaces, more than 10 times as many as the 72 it arrested five years ago. Of those arrested this year, 99 were company supervisors, compared with 93 in 2007. – “In Immigration Cases, Employers Feel The Pressure,” Spencer Hsu, Washington Post, July 21, 2008

But as Hsu’s story points out, officials from both the Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration that preceded it feel that no significant progress at curtailing illegal hiring will occur until Congress changes the laws:

Stewart A. Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department, recently told immigration experts the disparity can be traced to ineffective policies that need to be addressed by Congress…

“If you want law enforcement, you have to have laws that are enforceable,” said Doris M. Meissner, who headed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton administration. The 1986 law banning the hiring of illegal immigrants, she said, “has just been chronically flawed from the time it was passed.” – “In Immigration Cases, Employers Feel The Pressure,” Spencer Hsu, Washington Post, July 21, 2008

Meanwhile, the editorial page at the New York Times follows up on Julia Preston’s front-page report July 6 (“Employers Fight Tough Measures on Immigration”) on the business community getting more engaged in immigration reform efforts in Washington and around the country.  Today’s editorial notes the hodge-podge of state and local measures going after immigrants and businesses that hire immigrants unauthorized to work:

States and cities complain about the broken immigration system, but they can’t create the intricate web of policies needed to fix it — that’s up to Congress. All they can do is try to crack down locally on illegal immigrants and the businesses that hire them. The result has been haphazard enforcement without reform, which only makes the problem worse. – “Pushing Back on Immigration,” New York Times editorial, July 21, 2008

The Times editorial goes on to note that businesses who want to play by the rules are the main losers in the current equation:

Many companies have operated with impunity in hiring and abusing undocumented low-wage workers, people who are all the more compliant because they are illegal. Like immigrants, good employers need a path to get right and stay right with the law. Current immigration law — with far too few visas and no path to legalization for the undocumented — does not provide one, and misguided state and local enforcement efforts simply layer on the confusion. They impose undue hardships on by-the-books businesses and reward the exploiters. – “Pushing Back on Immigration,” New York Times editorial, July 21, 2008

The editorial then calls on the business community to step-up to the plate when it comes to fixing our immigration system:

If the country is ever going to emerge from the immigration chaos that Congress bequeathed it last year, it will be because business interests — largely seen as AWOL in the bitter debate — finally joined the fight. – “Pushing Back on Immigration,” New York Times editorial, July 21, 2008

While we welcome more business voices at the table – and have been working with this wing of the pro-immigrant, pro-reform movement for years – other key actors that have been AWOL for most of the last year (at least in a constructive sense) are the President and Congress.  We would always welcome them back to the table.

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