When it comes to enforcing immigration laws, the federal government’s right hand is in a bare-knuckles fistfight with the federal government’s left hand. And We the People are getting bloodied and bruised in the fight to stop enabling and rewarding illegal immigration.

A new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative announced last month by the Bush Administration puts teeth into the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) “no-match” letter program by requiring employers to fire any worker who can not produce a valid Social Security number within 90 days, or to risk prosecution.

Every year, the SSA sends out about 100,000 no-match letters to employers who have 10 or more workers with Social Security numbers that do not exist or do not match the names in the agency’s records. No-match letters were routinely ignored, because employers could claim compliance with immigration laws if a suspect employee filled out an I-9 form and presented two forms of ID – the authenticity of which need not be verified.

But before the new program could take effect on September 14th, the American Civil Liberties Union ACLU), the AFL-CIO, several labor groups in CA filed a lawsuit contending that that “DHS is overstepping its authority to enforce immigration laws and is misusing a Social Security Administration database,” reports The Washington Post. U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order against the government and scheduled a hearing for Oct. 1.

In response to the ruling, the SSA warns of “a vast bureaucratic logjam” that would significantly delay processing millions of routine retirement and disability claims, if the agency is barred from mailing out some 141,000 already-prepared no-match letters. Judge Chesney’s restraining order applies to these letters because they include a DHS notice advising employers that they risk prosecution if they do not fire employees who cannot show within 90 days that they have valid Social Security numbers. The New York Times reports:

[The] Social Security Administration had already delayed sending the letters to employers for several months this year as officials negotiated with immigration authorities over the new rules and the Senate debated an immigration bill, which failed in June.

Although Judge Chesney did not bar the agency from sending the letters if references to the new rules were removed … it would take 30 days to fix the mailing. … [A]ny delay past mid-September would cause a backlog that would spread into the first half of 2008.

It remains to be seen whether the ACLU and the other plaintiffs can prove their case. According to a report by the Social Security inspector general, 17.8 million of the agency’s 435 million records – that’s fewer than five percent – include a discrepancy that could trigger a no-match letter. A small fraction of these can be attributed to clerical errors or a name change (typically due to marriage or divorce). But the overwhelming majority of the workers flagged are illegal aliens. Thus, the no match letter program very precisely targets the very people it is meant to root out.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Small Business Administration is considering filing an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last month, economist Pia Orrenius, a policy advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, explains why a federal agency would seek to undermine the no-match program:

At least eight million illegal immigrants work in the U.S. today and, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of them work on the books. … According to the SSA’s Earnings Suspense File, taxed wages of persons whose names and Social Security numbers do not match reached $586 billion at the start of fiscal year 2007, up from $463 billion in 2002. This revenue could substantially decrease with the implementation of new laws.

The main effects will be to drive undocumented workers underground where they will work off the books for lower wages, under worse conditions and subject to more abuses. In recent work, Madeline Zavodny of Agnes Scott College and I found that the no-match letters and other post-9/11 enforcement measures, such as the Real ID Act, have eroded the demand for undocumented labor relative to other low-skilled workers, causing the relative wages and employment rates of undocumented workers to decline.

Faced with worse job prospects, some illegal immigrants return to their home countries, but most stay put. They are bound to this country by their U.S.-born children and, in many cases, by their pending green card applications.

As the conditions of illegals worsen, they will be more likely to default on mortgages and credit cards, problems that affect us all. … And as illegals come off the books, their earnings will go untaxed at the same time that their need for public dollars for services such as health care will likely rise, so U.S. taxpayers could be made worse off as well.

Frankly, on the sixth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks The Stiletto has little sympathy for any argument that advocates turning a blind eye to government-issued ID forgery and identity theft.

If the U.S. government had effectively policed its borders, we would not have to deal with de facto amnesty because we lack the manpower and facilities to find, detain and deport the 12 million illegals who are here already. There must be a price to pay for breaking our laws (re-entry into the US after being deported is a felony, not a civil offense – look it up, Rudy), and if that price is to be forced to live “underground” so be it.

If the banking industry had not extended credit and mortgages to illegal aliens (second item), we would not have to deal with defaults and the resulting adverse effects on housing and other sectors of the economy. There must be a price to pay for aiding and abetting lawbreaking. If the banking industry has to eat the resulting losses of loaning money to people it ought not to have been doing business with in the first place, so be it.

If immigrants who cannot prove that they have a green card application pending were ineligible to receive public services, U.S. taxpayer would not have to deal with unskilled, non-English speaking illegal aliens with poor employment prospects living on the dole. There must be a price to pay for taking jobs away from poor, unskilled Americans.

The U.S. can actually learn a thing or two from Mexico on how to handle illegal immigration. Adopt the same illegal immigration laws Mexico has – and enforce them as zealously as Mexico does – and all these problems that Orrenius wrings her hands over are resolved.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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