A judge keeps authorities from using mismatched Social Security data to go after employers who hired undocumented workers.
By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times
October 2, 2007
A federal judge in San Francisco on Monday extended a temporary restraining order preventing immigration authorities from using mismatched Social Security data to go after employers who may have hired undocumented workers.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said the planned federal crackdown would cause "serious irreparable harm" to immigration and labor groups that filed a lawsuit against the federal government.
After a two-hour hearing, Breyer said he would issue a final ruling within 10 days.
The hearing centered on the legality of a rule proposed by Department of Homeland Security officials aimed at reducing the number of illegal immigrant workers.
The rule was proposed after Congress failed to reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform that would have included tougher sanctions on employers.
As part of the policy, the Social Security Administration had planned to begin sending 140,000 "no-match letters" last month to companies whose employees’ names did not match the Social Security numbers they used when applying for jobs. Employers who did not act on the letters within 90 days would face civil and criminal sanctions.
The letters could affect as many as 8 million workers. Businesses have expressed concern that the government’s plan would gut the workforce in agriculture, hospitality and other industries.
In late August, a district judge blocked the planned crackdown days before the letters were to be mailed.
On Monday afternoon, attorneys for the coalition said they were pleased by the extension and hopeful for a final decision in their favor.
"We believe — as we argued in court — that this new rule is improper, is a violation of the law and will cause massive discrimination," said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.
One government lawyer, Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas Dupree, said after the hearing that the rule was "very important" and that the government was ready to implement it. "This is a rule that provides much-needed guidance and clarity to employers who want to comply with the law," he said.
The courtroom was packed. Among the observers was Rick Oltman, spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization, who said the lawsuit was about not wanting to lose access to cheap immigrant labor.
"What they do not want is to have our immigration laws enforced," Oltman said, adding that the rule would "put us one step closer to ending the magnet that is bringing the illegal aliens into this country."
During the hearing, Dupree said the federal government was trying to help companies follow the law, which bars them from hiring undocumented workers and holds them accountable if they knowingly do so.
Judge Breyer, however, questioned whether the letter stated the law accurately.