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Immigration Reforms Could Change Hiring Practices

JEFFREY BROWN: Continuing his push for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, President Bush went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today and touted a new system that would enable employers to determine the legality of those they were hiring.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I think this is sensible. I think, if we want to enforce our laws, people ought to be required to check to see whether or not names and numbers match.

JEFFREY BROWN: The provision, included in both the Senate and House bills, is called the Employment Verification System.

The nation’s 6.5 million employers would be required to check an electronic database to determine if future workers are here legally and entitled to work. Those who knowingly employ illegal immigrants could face fines as high as $20,000 per worker and jail time for repeat offenses.

During Senate debate on the plan, both sides of the aislestressed its significance.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: This is probably the single most important thing that we can do, in terms of reducing the inflow of undocumented workers: making sure that we can actually enforce, in a systematic way, rules governing who gets hired.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), Iowa: What we are trying to do is balance the needs of workers and employers and the immigration enforcement.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s been a crime to employ illegal workers since the passage of the 1986 immigration law, but studies have shown that penalties have not been widely enforced.

The new program is intended to replace one known as Basic Pilot, an optional verification system in place since 1997. To date, only a small fraction of the nation’s employers have participated.

Enforcing the law

JEFFREY BROWN: And we look at some of these issues now with:Laura Reiff, chair of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, whichrepresents business interests in the debate over immigration reform; and KevinJernegan, a professor at George Washington University,who specializes in labor and immigration.

And welcome to both of you.

LAURA REIFF, Essential Worker Immigration Coalition: Thankyou.

KEVIN JERNEGAN, Professor, George Washington University: Thank youvery much, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Jernegan, starting with you, we hear bothsides saying that this is something of a linchpin in whatever happens. Why? Whyis it so important?

KEVIN JERNEGAN: Well, it's very difficult to enforce anysort of sanctions against employers unless you can establish that theyknowingly hired undocumented labor.

Going back to 1986 with the Immigration Reform and ControlAct, we'd identified that one of the major draws for undocumented immigrantswas, in fact, these abundant job offers that they had here that paidsubstantially better than they could make on the other side of the border.

So we wanted to go after these -- we reduced the number ofjobs that were available to them and hopefully stemmed the tide of illegalimmigration. And it seemed to have worked temporarily, in that, after 1986, wesaw that the apprehension of deportable aliens dropped by 50 percent during thefirst three years after that.

So there's strong evidence to suggest that the employer sanctionsagainst employers, in fact, helped. But pretty soon people figured out thatthere were ways around the system and that you could introduce fraudulentdocuments, for instance.

There was very little enforcement. The number of actualinvestigations of employers and penalties assessed against them was veryminimal. And so, pretty soon, you found that the number of undocumented startedto go up again.

But, basically, in order for any of the employer sanctionsto be effective, you have to have a reliable way of knowing who is and who isnot lawfully present. And, right now, if you look at someone who's got a bogusidentity card, a stolen identity, how can you really establish that thatemployer really knowingly hired someone who was lawfully present?

Controlling the flow

Finally, beware of unrealistic career moves or a job that sounds too good to be true. Due diligence is your responsibility–not the headhunter’s. No one cares about your career as much as you do.