I was pleasantly surprised to read an article in the Washington Post which was neither a sob story about illegal alien treatment or a boost for more slave labor imports.
In fact, Spencer S. Hsu, the staff writer who wrote the July 21st front page piece (In Immigration Cases, Employers Feel the Pressure–But Critics Fault Laws as Ineffective), admits up front that
"A three-year-old enforcement campaign against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is increasingly resulting in arrests and criminal convictions, using evidence gathered by phone taps, undercover agents and prisoners who agree to serve as government witnesses."
Of course, he immediately follows with some negatives, "But the crackdown's relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation."
But rather than wait until the end, he also quotes "Stewart A. Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department, recently told immigration experts the disparity can be traced to ineffective policies that need to be addressed by Congress.
"Companies tell me, 'We have an immigration system that allows us to hire illegal workers, legally,' " Baker said. Asked to defend President Bush's track record, he said, "Why are employers not punished more often? Because the laws we have don't really authorize that. In the first nine months of this fiscal yea, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made 937 criminal arrests at U.S. workplaces, more than 10 times as many as the 72 it arrested five years ago. Of those arrested this year, 99 were company supervisors, compared with 93 in 2007."
In short, we get two clear messages here. Enforcement works and will work better if Congress would do its job. How often to we ask that, for example to approve a pending solar energy bill or amend the Alternative Minimum Tax provisions of the IRS code which will hurt millions of our diminishing Middle Class payers? And, secondly, the owners of these businesses who hire illegal aliens need to be punished, not just their employees.
Secretary Baker claims we need new laws on the books that cover owners. Again, Congress has let us down.
And again I appreciate the clarity of Mr. Hsu's prose: "The arrests have led to several convictions, including a union official at a Swift meatpacking plant; three executives of a Florida janitorial services company; a temporary-staffing agency manager for a Del Monte Fresh Produce plant in Oregon; two supervisors of a Cargill pork plant cleaning contractor in Illinois; and seven managers of IFCO Systems North America, a pallet services company, among others.
But Baker's comments acknowledged criticism by labor union leaders, immigrant rights' groups and Democrats about the limits of employer enforcement."
As enforcement picks up steam, employers are getting worried that they might be declared culpable for illegal hiring. Gee, what a surprise. There is still some respect for the law, in an arena which has become dangerously lawless. One ICE undercover agent "taped union official Braulio Pereyra advising new employees at an orientation speech on how to protect false identities. 'You can lie to your boss or whomever, but not to the police," Pereyra was recorded as saying. "That's a federal offense.'" The continued failure to enforce will quickly undermine that respect for our precious Rule of Law. Pereyra is deep trouble, but not yet in jail.
And what about those business owners? Hsu names the most egregious case so far. "Enforcement disparities were displayed vividly May 12 when ICE agents swept into an Agriprocessors Inc. kosher meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa. They arrested 389 illegal workers; 270 were convicted within days in expedited court proceedings at a cattle fairgrounds; and many were sentenced to five months in prison, mostly on criminal document-fraud charges. By contrast, ICE agents arrested two supervisors and issued an arrest warrant for a third man on July 3. The firm remains in operation."
Then Hsu starts quoting folks like the US Chamber Of Commerce and the ACLU who have been open border always. I bet his former business paymasters were somewhat surprised to hear Frank Sharry, former head of the National Immigration Forum, now executive director of America's Voice, a newly formed group that promotes citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, suddenly opine the Iowa "raid shows the misdirected policy of criminalizing illegal immigration for workers while not shutting down the jobs "magnet" that lures them." Hey, Mr. Sharry, for once I agree with you.
Then Hsu quotes Sharry as adding, "There's no question this administration is coddling unscrupulous employers while arresting undocumented immigrants in order to make their statistics look good." However, he still pushes amnesty (formerly dubbed "comprehensive immigration reform"), while echoing "Baker's frustration at politicians who seek to look tough on immigration and yet do not provide effective law enforcement tools....." Guess he and his open border crowd are still groping for a new term for amnesty.
Hsu notes that "If companies do not respond to "no-match" letters, ICE could use that failure as evidence of illegal hiring. But the plan remains stalled by a federal lawsuit filed by the US Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union, which allege that it will disrupt businesses and discriminate against legal U.S. workers." Our same open border buddies at work.
And Hsu writes about a dispute over expanded use of "a voluntary online system that checks whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States. The Bush administration on June 9 ordered 60,000 federal contractors to use the government's E-Verify system, which checks workers' information against Social Security and immigration-status databases." But, he says, "Still, 12 years after Congress mandated that such a tool be piloted in 1996, the change will enroll about 2 percent of U.S. companies."
Hsu in short tells a balanced story about the forces for and against real immigration reform, which is a welcome relief from the past stories I have read in his paper.
While document fraud will always inhabit our system, some states are going ahead with the imperfect but highly promising E-Verify system which businesses are now required to use in several states.
Hsu says, "The conflicting moves show how opposition has frustrated enforcement of the ban on hiring illegal immigrants. In 1986, Congress required law enforcement agencies to show that an employer knowingly violated the law, but provided few tools, agents or dollars to do so."
In short, in this well balanced assessment by Hsu of the immigration situation, he concludes that "Few expect the situation to change soon with this fall's elections looming. Some GOP congressional campaigns are talking tough, but the party is wary of further alienating its traditional business base. Democrats in turn rely on labor and immigrant support, leading the House to propose a $40 billion DHS budget bill that would require ICE to prioritize $800 million in enforcement funding next year to deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records, not workers. At a Georgetown Law School conference in May, Baker of DHS described a sense among voters that "both parties owed their base a kind of collusion of pretend enforcement of the immigration laws." He added, "I can't say that was completely misplaced skepticism."
In summary, it appears that some real progress on enforcement has been made and that clearly enforcement (including border fences) does work. Playing politics with an issue about which well over 60% all American citizens want real action may not be a safe strategy for those who wish to remain in office. And thanks, Mr. Hsu, for a professional, balanced reporting job.
Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.