Undocumented Workers: Big Trouble for Big Business

August 8th, 2007 by

With Congress failing to pass immigration reform, Homeland Security is about to turn up the heat on big businesses. We read in the New York Times that new rules are about to be issued, requiring employers to fire workers who use false social security numbers. Homeland Security is also planning to step up the raids on workplaces across the country. In the chess game that is immigration policy, the pawns are about to get crushed.
“We are tough and we are going to get even tougher,” says the aptly named Russ Knocke, a spokesman for Homeland Security. “There are not going to be any more excuses for employers, and there will be serious consequences for those that choose to blatantly disregard the law.”
Wrong Numbers
Here’s how the new enforcement program will work: Social Security will issue no-match letters to large employers where they find a significant number of incorrect numbers. These letters are issued only to employers with at least 10 mismatches, when these workers represent at least one half of 1 percent of the total workforce. Do the math: the enforcement effort is limited to employers with at least 2,000 employees. The key target of the enforcement effort is big business.
FOLLOW UP NOTE: Redo the math! A reader points out (see comments) that this new program may well impact much smaller employers, with as few as 50 employees. So the impact is potentially much greater than I originally thought. And as for mistakes in my math, alas, this is by no means the first.
Once employers receive the no-match letters, they have 14 days to check for clerical errors and consult with the employees to correct any mistakes. If they cannot come up with a valid social security number, they must fire the employees or face fines of up to $10,000.
Immigrant advocacy groups fear the consequences: massive lay offs accompanied by a surge in the “underground” workforce. Add to this the complete absence of safety enforcement for most undocument workers and you have a truly volatile mix.
There is an over-arching irony in this situation: most of the undocumented workers who will lose their jobs under this program are performing valuable and valued work. They have taken on jobs that credentialed workers traditionally reject: work that is too hard, with pay that is too low and working conditions that are too miserable. Many of these important jobs will remain vacant. Beyond the misery of the families and communities hosting these workers, we will all see a signficant increase in the cost of living. Sure, it’s trouble for American business. But soon enough it will become trouble for all of us.