Part of IIRA could be used nationwide
Sunday, 18 March 2007
A feature of Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act that lets employers verify the residency status of workers might catch on nationally regardless of whether a federal judge declares the IIRA constitutional in a trial scheduled to resume Monday. The IIRA encourages, and in some cases requires, employers to use a computerized federal service called the Basic Pilot Program to check whether newly hired workers are legal residents.
Employers who hire illegal immigrants have faced penalties since 1986, but federal action against them has been sporadic.
That might change with the Basic Pilot, which started a decade ago in a few states during a testing period and now is available nationwide though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Between 8,600 and 14,000 of the nation’s six million employers have signed up for Basic Pilot, according to estimates presented at the trial in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Scranton.
“It will eliminate the old excuse of an employer saying ‘I can’t tell a fake green card from a real one,’” Kris Kobach, an attorney defending the city, said during a break in the trial.
Kobach, who advised the Bush administration about immigration after Sept. 11, 2001, said Republicans and Democrats alike eventually want to require employers to use Basic Pilot.
Marc Rosenblum, a professor who answered to Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy when working for an immigration subcommittee in the Senate, was asked Thursday during his testimony if he favored using Basic Pilot.
“Yes, as soon as we get the kinks worked out,” Rosenblum said.
Odds that Basic Pilot will incorrectly indicate workers’ status are too high for Rosenblum to favor forcing employers to use the program now.
“You’re not aware of any report saying Basic Pilot is ready for prime time?” plaintiff’s attorney Vic Walczak asked.
“Correct,” Rosenblum said.
Mistakes occur in Basic Pilot because of errors in federal databases and mistakes that employers make when entering information. The program works by having employers type in the name and other personal information about a new employee, and the entry is compared against two federal databases.
If the information matches data for citizens and legal immigrants kept by the Social Security Administration and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, the person’s right to work is verified in seconds. When no match is found, Homeland Security staff members take a day or more to check the data before issuing a final denial, which the person may appeal.
Congress wants Basic Pilot to be 99.5 percent accurate and make no more than three errors for naturalized citizens or legal immigrants for every one mistake involving natural-born citizens.
Kobach’s cross-examination of Rosenblum indicated the accuracy is between 90 and 95 percent, and Rosenblum said even the most draconian immigration bill in Congress recommends phasing in the program in two years.
President Bush favors making Basic Pilot mandatory, and questions he faced about immigration while traveling in Latin America last week parallel issues raised in the trial.
In Guatemala, President Oscar Miller asked Bush to halt deportations. More than 300 allegedly illegal immigrants, many of them from Guatemala, were taken into custody at their workplace in New Bedford, Mass., March 6 during a raid that left some children without their parents.
“The United States will enforce our law. It’s against the law to hire somebody who’s in our country illegally,” Bush said Monday.
The IIRA suspends the business permits of employers who hire illegal immigrants.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” the IIRA’s foremost supporter, Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, said outside the courtroom the next day when asked about the president’s remarks. “It’s illegal to hire illegal workers.”
The leader of one of the groups suing to prevent IIRA from taking effect considered Bush’s proposals to start a guest-worker program when framing the Hazleton case in a national context.
“You can’t have the president of the United States making commitments and promises to the heads of state about treatment (with)in our borders and then have cities like Hazleton making their own rules,” Cesar Perales, president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Defense and Education Fund, said.
During testimony, city council President Joseph Yannuzzi, who voted for the IIRA, said he doesn’t think the federal government should deport illegal immigrants.
“Just make them legal,” Yannuzzi said.
Dr. Agapito Lopez, a Hazleton eye surgeon who opposes the IIRA, said he believes the United States and all nations have the right to control their borders.
“I oppose small cities that have to deal with this problem when this is a national problem,” Lopez said.
Rosenblum testified that other nations can use immigration as a chip in bargaining with the United States.
He provided an example using Mexico, which Bush visited Tuesday. Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized the 700-mile fence that the United States plans to build on the border and said a stronger Mexican economy is the true way to stop his countrymen from crossing.
Rosenblum said if the United States doesn’t set immigration policy to Mexico’s liking, Mexico doesn’t have to cooperate on efforts to stop drug smugglers and terrorists at the border.
Drawing from Rosenblum’s remarks, Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, also a plaintiff against the city, asked if Barletta ever considered what would happen to U.S. foreign policy if every city enacted an IIRA .
Barletta said he wasn’t elected in Mexico or Guatemala.
“At the time, I wasn’t trying to solve the world’s trade deficit ... I saw a problem in my city. I was thinking about the people who live in Hazleton,” he said. ... 5&Itemid=2