Immigration enforcement faces setback
By Devona Walker
The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), October 2, 2007
The Social Security Administration's plans to send out thousands of 'no-match letters were delayed again Monday, vexing foes of illegal immigration and causing mass confusion among business owners.
Thousands of 'no-match letters were intended to go out, beginning Sept. 14, to thousands of U.S. employers with workers whose names do not match their Social Security numbers. The letters would come with a U.S. Department of Homeland Security insert that stipulates it is unlawful to hire illegal immigrants and give the employer 90 days to terminate the worker.
On Monday, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco took under advisement several issues in the complaint against the Department of Homeland Security, and has delayed passing judgment. This effectively extends the existing restraining order, which has blocked the government from sending out the letters.
A powerful alliance'
Some say recent judicial challenges of piecemeal immigration enforcement both from departments within the government and various states illustrate that everything still hinges of comprehensive reform.
'It's an unlikely but powerful alliance. The ethnic advocacy groups provide the racial politics to make sure everything gets polarized. The business groups provide the money and the political muscle. Together, they will make sure the laws are never enforced, said Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, outspoken foes of illegal immigration.
Statewide attempts at immigration enforcement face the same judicial challenges.
'It will be the same thing, with the court system we have in this country, and the fact that most judges are sympathetic to illegal immigrants, you are going to constantly run into the same problem, Camarota said.
This rule was challenged by a coalition headed by the AFL-CIO and the National Immigration Law. Within a week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and numerous trade groups joined the ranks. Among the trade groups mentioned in the complaint are the United Fresh Produce Association, the National Roofing Contractors Association and the Association of Nursery and Landscapers.
'It doesn't mean we are never going to be able to enforce immigration laws. It is just going to take some time, Camarota said. 'This is a long process, and this is just one part of that process.
What's the local response?
While the government faces legal challenges in San Francisco, Oklahoma might face legal challenges of its own in a Tulsa federal court.
A group of Hispanic clergymen have vowed to sue the state over House Bill 1804, an immigration enforcement act.
Businesses are caught in the middle of changing rules, increased scrutiny and the apprehension of widescale labor shortages.
Some say 'no-match letters and HB 1804 threaten their livelihood. Others say it might level the playing field. But everyone admits to not really knowing what the government expects of them:
'It will put me out of business, said Chris Roberts, owner of Creative Landscapes Inc. 'I have been trying for years to find legal people to do the work. They are just not there.
Roberts has raised his wages numerous times over the years, to their current rate of $15 per hour for general laborers.
Still, he continues to experience vacancies.
In Oklahoma, landscaping can be arduous, outdoor work, and willingness to do it dips during the brutal winter months and at the peak of summer temperatures.
'If we are pressured to let our people go, we will either have to go out of business, raise our prices or find legal people to do the work. As I said before, no one is interested in my type of labor, Roberts said.
At Quality Construction Co., there about 32 full-time employees. It's been around for about 20 years. But even there, the owners were a little confused about all the changes afoot.
'I think they are increasing the fines or something, said Mark Ketelsleger, part owner of Quality Construction Co.
The only way he feels he can protect his company is by closely scrutinizing all new hires.
For Ketelsleger, however, the attraction of Hispanic workers is not a need for cheap labor, but productive and reliable ones.
'The Hispanics have a great work ethic. They are reliable, and they are dependable, Ketelsleger said. 'There is no cost-savings benefit to hiring Hispanic workers; it's all about their productivity.
It is also about availability.
'Americans are starting to move away from the more difficult labor. That's partially due to immigration, but it's also partially due to education, Ketelsleger said.
Not all employers are singing the praises of Hispanic labor.
'If they can apply for a green card and do it legally, then more power to them, said Larry Self, of Larry's Decorative Concrete. 'Until then, they don't belong here.
'They are getting worked over from both sides. And that all goes back to the fact that they shouldn't be here, he added.
Larry's Decorative Concrete employs no Hispanics illegal or legal.
But Self says he competes with companies that do hire illegal immigrants and that are consequently able to undercut his rates.
As the price of fuel surges, the landscaping sector has suffered. There is a low ceiling when it comes to how much someone will pay for those services before they start cutting their own yards, he said.
'I see a lot of companies struggling because of the illegal immigrants, Self said. 'They can't compete.
SBA opposes letters
Recently, those seeking to stop the 'no-match letters from going out found a governmental ally in the U.S. Small Business Administration. In a recent letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the administration says the agency violated the Regulatory Flexibility Act by failing to analyze the 'no-match rule's impact on small businesses.
Business groups contend the rule would cost small businesses at least $100 million a year to implement.
For Camarota, the recent judicial wranglings illustrate why amnesty and enforcement can't occur simultaneously.
'This is exactly why enforcement must happen first, Camarota said.
Enforcement would be challenged as amnesty goes through, he said.
'In the end, we would be right back where we started, with no enforcement and millions of illegal immigrants, Camarota said.