Feds won't enforce rule on firing illegal immigrants
'No-match' letters to employers won't be mailed as appeals court decides case
By Mary Lou Pickel
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, December 25, 2007
Employers will get a pass this year on rules that would have required firing illegal immigrants.
The Social Security Administration says it will not mail out 'no-match' letters this year to more than 138,000 employers nationwide.
The program was stymied because of a lawsuit by a coalition of labor, business and civil liberties groups.
No-match letters inform employers that a worker's name and Social Security number don't match. There can be a variety of reasons, but sometimes that's because the worker is an illegal immigrant. The letters would have flagged 8.6 million workers nationwide.
In Georgia, 4,669 employers will get a pass on the letters this year.
'There are some employers who are probably relieved because if a large portion of their workers are listed on the mismatch letter, they could lose some or most of their employees, with no one to take their place,' said Eileen Scofield, an Atlanta immigration and labor lawyer.
A spokesman for the restaurant industry said what the government needs to do is adopt comprehensive immigration reform, rather than more rules.
Twenty-two percent of the nation's 7.6 million food prep and service employees are foreign born.
'We don't think you can enforce your way out of our broken immigration system,' said Mike Shutley, director of legislative affairs for the National Restaurant Association.
In August, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new rule giving employers 90 days to terminate workers whose paperwork could not be reconciled once they got a no-match letter.
That rule is on hold, however, after a federal district judge in California issued an injunction in October. The case is on appeal to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.
Labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union argued in the lawsuit that legal workers and others might be fired unfairly. They also said the government did not consider the impact on small businesses. Some causes for Social Security mismatches include typos, name changes from marriage or divorce and multiple last names.
In some cases, however, the mismatch happens because a worker is not legally authorized to work in the United States. That's what the Department of Homeland Security is trying to address.
'The no-match letters are an important tool not only for the department to better enforce our immigration laws, but also for employers to make sure that they are complying with the law and appropriate hiring practices,' said Veronica Valdes, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.
'We are in no way abandoning the no-match rule,' Valdes said.
The department will revise the rule and try again, she said.
In the past, employers were not required to act on no-match letters, although some would follow through and terminate workers who could not clear up their paperwork.
That's the case with Miguel Candelaria, owner of MA&O Construction. Candelaria helped found the Hispanic Contractors Association of Georgia.
Candelaria got no-match letters for the 2005 tax year affecting eight of about 500 employees. A few employees had legitimate mistakes, such as typos in their names or numbers, that needed to be fixed, he said.
A few had used their children's Social Security numbers, and some had expired work visas. He fired them.
'The ones who couldn't come up with the stuff, they're gone,' Candelaria said.