Twelve years after one of the most sweeping immigration laws in
history, efforts to stem the flow of illegals into the United States
are foundering on bogus documents and scofflaw businesses.
When Congress first prohibited US employers from hiring illegal
immigrants in 1986, it was intended to cut down on the dramatic rise
in illegal entries along the US-Mexican border by taking away the
migrants' main reason for coming - the lure of jobs in the North.
But today most businesses still have no quick way to check the
eligibility of people they hire - and many don't want to.
This puts those who do at the mercy of prospective workers, who
can present dozens of documents to prove their identities. In an era
when the most basic copy machine can churn out real-looking driver's
licenses and birth certificates, it can be difficult to tell the
fraud from the real Montoya.
But in Texas and four other high-immigration states, federal
agencies are now testing a telephone verification program that may
give US businesses a chance to abide by the law, and avoid
hefty fines. "The problem that immigration officials have always
faced is that employers could always say ... these fraudulent papers
look real enough to them," says Mark Krikorian, director of the
Center for Immigration Studies, a research group in Washington. "Not
only does this make it difficult for the feds to crack down on
undocumented workers, it provides a screen for crooked employers who
routinely hire illegal immigrants."
But if you think the solution is to create a tamperproof national
identification card, as found in many European and Asian nations,
guess again. Opposed by both civil libertarians and social
conservatives alike, a national ID card has long been portrayed as a
threat to privacy, with overtones of Big Brother. As a result,
federal immigration officials are testing a less-controversial - and
some say flawed - approach of using a telephone call to cross-match
employees' names against their Social Security numbers.
Why the crackdown
Immigration is growing at a rate unseen in almost 80 years. While
1 million immigrants enter the US legally each year, more than 5
million others arrive illegally, more than half of those from Mexico.
The US Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS) has responded to this illegal tide in the past five years by
doubling the size of its Border Patrol and, more recently, by
conducting worksite raids in places such as hotels and meatpacking
and poultry plants, where many undocumented people work.
If all goes well at the 950 employer test sites in Texas,
California, Florida, Illinois, and New York, employers may, for the
first time, get their immigration questions answered quickly. …