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Immigration Laws Hit Businesses Hardest

New America Media, News Report, Suzanne Manneh Posted: Apr 17, 2008

Editor's Note: Business owners are concerned that anti-immigration legislation could push them over the edge in an already weakened economy. Access Washington is a teleconference series offered by New America Media to ethnic media, linking them with experts and lawmakers on immigration law reform. Elena Shore is an editor for New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO Legislation meant to crack down on undocumented immigrants will have the greatest impact on businesses, activists asserted on Access Washington, a New America Media-sponsored conference call with ethnic media.

We are living in a volatile environment, said Craig J. Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research for the American Nursery and Landscape Association, and chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.

In the wake of several new state and local anti-immigration bills, such as Oklahomas recent HB 1804 and Hazelton, Penn.'s ordinance that bar undocumented immigrants from accessing housing, employment, and penalize employers for employing them, employers are fearful and confused about how to comply with these new measures and their repercussions.

Last year, 1,600 state laws addressing immigration were passed, and even more were approved at a local level.

States passing their own (legislation) is not a solution, asserted Angelo I. Amador, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Amador said that the federal government should be in control of this legislation since current legal conditions leave employers with a myriad of regulations, where there should be consistency.

For example, states and municipalities that are using E-Verify, an Internet identity tracker for employers to check the names and social security numbers of newly hired employees, conflict with other established federal, state, and municipal legislation.

In the case of Hazelton, Amador explained, employers are given three days to verify that their employees information is correct. If the information is erroneous, the employer is mandated to fire the worker. However, the same program under federal law, also known as basic pilot, stipulates that employers have 10 days to verify information before they must fire employees.

If you were complying with the Hazleton law as it was written, you would be in violation of federal law, and if you were complying with the federal law as written, you would be in violation with the Hazleton law, Amador said.

Additional complications arise in such states as Arizona and Illinois, which have different E-Verify stipulations: If you're an employer doing business in Arizona and Illinois," Amador explained, "you have to devise a separate structure to do hiring in Arizona than Illinois.

These conflicting laws and their enforcement are not the only causes for employer difficulties. The E-Verify system itself presents its own complications.

The E-Verify program sounds good and you would think that with high technology it would be easily done, but there are a number of problems with doing it, said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute and author of "Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka's Solution to Illegal Immigration."

The first problem, according to Harper, is that 4.1 percent of data in the Social Security Administrations (SSA) database is in error. That means that one out every 25 hired persons would receive a tentative non-confirmation, which means the information submitted by employer doesn't match what is in the SSA database and the employee must go to the SSA and straighten it out.

The second, and more troubling, drawback of using E-Verify, he explained, is that employees may claim different SSNs and acquire false documents to pass through the E-Verify check, which would deepen fraud in the system.

That would obviously weaken the system as a prevention of illegal immigration, and would also cause problems for the American citizen or legal resident whose information it really was," Harper explained. "We'd have a lot of complication for the worker who's obeyed the law, who would also be dinged by the system, and perhaps prevented from working."

"You can't really sprinkle technology on deep running economic and social problems to make them go away, and that is what it (E-Verify) is trying to do, he said.

The system is also unfair to some small businesses that do not have a human resources department or high speed Internet capability, added Angelo Armado. If you don't have high-speed Internet on your hot dog stand, then you're out of luck because you're going to have to figure out a way of doing of that kind of investment to verify yourself."

But experts say the farm industry is suffering most. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants high profile raids to convince the public that immigration enforcement is happening, what easier place to go than a farm? said Regelbrugge. This is leading to day-to -day decisions that are hurting agriculture and the agricultural economy. People may be deciding to plant less, harvest less, downsize their operation across the board or even move a portion of their operations to other countries."

"These anti-immigration initiatives are creating fear at a local level, and moving employees out," he said."In Oklahoma, one of the major nursery employers in Eastern Oklahoma had 40 experienced workers leave, telling him they could no longer take the environment.

Employers are beginning to organize and voice their disapproval of these laws, and their concerns for their economic future.

This legislation is framing employers as the problem, holding them responsible," said Regelbrugge,
"and we need to get at employers to solve this problem.

The most powerful tool, he said, is for employers to sit with lawmakers and walk them through the economic implications of solving this poorly.

Regelbrugge compared the immigration crackdown to Prohibition: "If we regulate it tighter and tighter, we have to expect to see unintended consequences, whereas if we reconcile where we want to be with the rule of law intact -- and we can figure a way out to do that -- that's good for our economy.

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