By Julie Preston, San Diego Union-Tribune
October 2, 2007
A federal judge in San Francisco extended for 10 days yesterday a temporary ban on a central measure in the Bush administration’s campaign to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
After a two-hour hearing, Judge Charles Breyer strongly suggested he was leaning against the government in the case.
The ban further delayed the start of a rule, which establishes steps an employer must follow after receiving a notice from the Social Security Administration, known as a no-match letter, reporting an employee’s identity information doesn’t match the agency’s records.
According to the rule, originally scheduled to take effect Sept. 14, if the employee cannot clarify the mismatch within 90 days, the employer would be required to fire the worker or risk prosecution for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. Those immigrants often provide false Social Security numbers when applying for jobs.
In an Aug. 31 decision, Judge Maxine Chesney, also of the federal district court in San Francisco, delayed the rule from taking effect before yesterday’s hearing and barred the Social Security Administration from sending out about 141,000 no-match letters, covering 8.7 million employees, which include notices from the Department of Homeland Security about the rule.
“It is clear to me at this point there would be irreparable harm to the plaintiffs,” Breyer commented at the end of the hearing, rejecting the government’s main argument. “It just seems to me looking at it that this is a potentially enormous burden on the employer,” the judge said, adding he would issue a ruling within 10 days.
The suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO and several San Francisco labor organizations. They were joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several national small-business associations.
Immigration control advocates remained hopeful the judge would see this rule as they do – as a late but welcome effort to enforce immigration laws that have been on the books, but overlooked for years.
“It’s those people who want to continue to use cheap, illegal labor that do not want this rule enforced,” said Rick Oltman, with Californians for Population Stabilization. “If you’re an employer, is it a huge imposition to see if you’ve made a typo in someone’s name?”
In court documents, the business groups argued the impact of the rule in terms of hiring and training office workers to comply with the new procedures and deadlines, and firing employees whose discrepancies were not resolved in time, would be “substantial, immediate and irreparable.”
The labor organizations said Social Security’s records contained errors that could lead to legal workers, including U.S. citizens, being unjustly fired under the rule.
The government countered the rule didn’t represent a departure from immigration laws or impose new burdens on employers, but was designed to help employers by clarifying past confusion about what they had to do to comply with the law.
The government has 140,000 such letters ready to go as soon as the judge grants his permission, said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tom Dupree.
“This is a rule that provides much needed guidance to employers who want to comply with the law,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.