August 8, 2007

Undocumented Workers: Big Trouble for Big Business

With Congress failing to pass immigration reform, Homeland Security is about to turn up the heat on big businesses. We read in the New York Times that new rules are about to be issued, requiring employers to fire workers who use false social security numbers. Homeland Security is also planning to step up the raids on workplaces across the country. In the chess game that is immigration policy, the pawns are about to get crushed.

"We are tough and we are going to get even tougher," says the aptly named Russ Knocke, a spokesman for Homeland Security. "There are not going to be any more excuses for employers, and there will be serious consequences for those that choose to blatantly disregard the law."

Wrong Numbers
Here's how the new enforcement program will work: Social Security will issue no-match letters to large employers where they find a significant number of incorrect numbers. These letters are issued only to employers with at least 10 mismatches, when these workers represent at least one half of 1 percent of the total workforce. Do the math: the enforcement effort is limited to employers with at least 2,000 employees. The key target of the enforcement effort is big business.
FOLLOW UP NOTE: Redo the math! A reader points out (see comments) that this new program may well impact much smaller employers, with as few as 50 employees. So the impact is potentially much greater than I originally thought. And as for mistakes in my math, alas, this is by no means the first.

Once employers receive the no-match letters, they have 14 days to check for clerical errors and consult with the employees to correct any mistakes. If they cannot come up with a valid social security number, they must fire the employees or face fines of up to $10,000.

Immigrant advocacy groups fear the consequences: massive lay offs accompanied by a surge in the "underground" workforce. Add to this the complete absence of safety enforcement for most undocument workers and you have a truly volatile mix.

There is an over-arching irony in this situation: most of the undocumented workers who will lose their jobs under this program are performing valuable and valued work. They have taken on jobs that credentialed workers traditionally reject: work that is too hard, with pay that is too low and working conditions that are too miserable. Many of these important jobs will remain vacant. Beyond the misery of the families and communities hosting these workers, we will all see a signficant increase in the cost of living. Sure, it's trouble for American business. But soon enough it will become trouble for all of us.



Mr Coppelman's assertions that we will all suffer due to the end of cheap exploited illegal laborers may have some merit. But don't get all idealogically warm and fuzzy just yet....The problem stems from our acceptance of this simmering travesty over the last 30 years and the softening of our over pampered workforce where even those on the public dole now assert that any form of manual labor is too menial. (That may account for the meteoric rise in the number of morbidly obese poor people as well).

Should we feel sorry for ourselves as Coppelman asserts? Maybe - but not because our seemingly free ride may be over soon, but because we as a nation have failed by allowing this travesty to continue unabated for so long. Shame on us all.

The pain will be shared all around ...what comes around does goes around.

To Mark Balduzzi: Easy with the emotioally loaded words! "Exploited" is in the eye of the beholder. When you get paid better in the USA for the same or even easier work than you did elsewhere (if you had any work and income there at all), that's progress, not "exploitation". That a person does useful work at low cost in the USA is good for the USA.

Jon, I think your math is a little off.

As you stated, letters will be sent out to employers with 10 or more mis-matches, where this represents at least .5% of the workforce.

So let's say an employer has 50 employees and 10 mismatches - those 10 mismatches are 20% of that employer's total workforce, so they will be sent a letter.

The .5% limit doesn't limit the query to big businesses by any means. I think they're just trying to weed out clerical flukes. An employer with 100 employees and 1 or 2 mismatches is probably just a fluke. An employer with 100 employees and 10 or 20 mismatches is just a bit suspect.

However, as they note, these mismatches can be caused by anything. When my fiance and I tried to move into our apartment a few years ago we were almost denied because there was a social security mis-match. As it turns out there had been a clerical error in one of the data files, and he had to spend hours fixing it. I just can't imagine the chaos this is going to cause for some people, and I pity the workers who are going to find their employers more willing to let them go than to wait to sort it out. There should be some sort of safety net in place for workers to prevent unjustified terminations.


If we our going to maintain our place in the world as a nation that believes in "The Rule of Law" we cannot keep 5% of our residents living outside of it! Do we want to become India with a caste system? Do we want another permanent underclass that is not allowed to achieve the American dream? Do we want to create permanent barrios for the illegal immigrants as we have effectively created permanent ghettos for blacks because we refuse to provide black children good education? The black slave problem and its aftermath have haunted us for almost 400 years. Are we so stupid we want to create the same problem again?

"Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free". Absolutely, but let's integrate them into the melting pot of a productive and vibrant society that they want to have a place in. Not cast them in to the barrio to be slaves to businesses who will take the risk of hiring them for an illegal advantage on the competition.


Charles Read


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on August 8, 2007 11:54 AM.

Rhode Island's Beacon Mutual: Promises, Promises was the previous entry in this blog.

Health Wonk Review: the party's at our place this week is the next entry in this blog.

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