MARCH 28, 2006
Crucial yet seldom-mentioned in the heated immigration reform debate is the fact that the U.S. Government protects American companies that hire illegal immigrants by ignoring repeated violations or slapping them with tiny, meaningless fines.
Since the 1986 implementation of a law that criminalizes the act of hiring an undocumented worker, federal authorities have seldom enforced it. Issued under Ronald Reagan, the Immigration Reform and Control Act was created precisely to deter people from entering the country illegally with low prospects for employment.
Applying the law has been a low priority for the U.S. Government, however. In fiscal year 1999 the agency in charge of enforcement, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), devoted about 9% of its total investigative agents to worksite enforcement. In 2003 the newly created Immigration and Customs Enforcement devoted only 4% of its agents. Rarely are employers busted for violations and, even when they are, civil penalties range from $110 to $1,000 which is nothing for companies making millions of dollars in profits thanks to the low wages they pay illegal aliens.
Joe Gandelman, a veteran journalist who wrote extensively about immigration and now operates The Moderate Voice, writes that the U.S. Government has never really cracked down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. In fact, as far back as the 1980s it was well known that the INS office in Kansas City looked the other way on employers using immigrants from Mexico.
At least the senators who proposed the controversial immigration reform legislation last year have addressed the important role companies play in the issue. Texas Senator John Cornyn and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl believe employer accountability is crucial and that immigration reform will fail if an underground workforce is allowed to exist.
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