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Though Shall Not Judge

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September 2007
Though Shall Not Judge

(Or pass half-baked laws against illegal immigrants)

Ram Chandra* works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, as a cook at a popular Indian restaurant, and hasn't been home to see his family in India in 6 years. Yet he does this all with a smile on his face, as he explains that "My children go to good schools; my wife has everything she needs to give them a good life. My sacrifice seems nothing in the face of that." Ram is the face of illegal immigrants, a population that is being increasingly demonized by politicos and pundits.

Many of us legal citizens and residents feel that Ram, and millions like him, are the only villains in a broken immigration system of the country. We feel that we can pass judgment on those who are in the country illegally. What we fail to consider is that it is we, the legal citizens and residents, as well as the Establishment in the form of Congress and other law enforcement agencies who are at least as much responsible for the illegals as they themselves are. Collectively, we established a social equivalent of the legal concept of "precedent." We have not only condoned but have implicitly welcomed over 12 million immigrants over a couple decades—so that we could enjoy the fruits of their labor; so much so that our economy is precariously and significantly dependent on their cheap labor. Having looked the other way while this phenomenon gradually mushroomed, we have, over the years, established a social precedent allowing the illegals to live and work amidst us. If we now want to crack upon the guilty, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror as partners in this national crime.

Moreover, we have now weaved this group inextricably into the economic fiber of the country, and trying to "nab" them or their employers at the grassroots level, without a systematically sound solution, could prove to be our economic doom. Every day, U.S. residents enjoy the fruits of the labor of undocumented workers: their efforts and willingness to take on jobs involving hard labor keep down the cost of our groceries, the houses we build, the restaurants we attend, and many other products and services we consume. This is a reality that many in Congress acknowledged, when they began pursuing a legalization program for these workers. However, other governmental departments have stepped up their efforts to put an end to that group of workers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a regulation in August related to hiring undocumented workers. The regulation includes "safe-harbor" timeframes for employers to verify information of an employee's work eligibility. This regulation is particularly important in light of increased ICE workplace raids. This is also seen as another step towards frightening employers and undocumented workers, despite the consequences to our economy and society.

An employer is subject to various penalties if s/he knows that an employee does not have work authorization. The rule includes "safe harbor" procedures that employers should follow in order to avoid liability. The new procedures include timeframes considered by ICE to be reasonable for an employer to use in order to verify the information received from the SSA or the DHS. If work authorization questions are not resolved within 90 days, the employer has to complete a new I-9 form and then may have to choose between terminating the employee and risking the consequences. There is no safe harbor available for an employer whose employee has been sponsored for labor certification or an immigration petition, if the employee does not have legal status.

The impact on immigrant-dependent industries such as construction and agriculture—whose workforce is at least two-thirds illegal—will be "devastating," predicted Craig Regelbrugge, director for the American Nursery and Landscape Association.

"There's no replacement workforce," he said. "This will give people a set of bad choices: either they terminate their workers, or they take a deep breath and duck and hope the law doesn't catch up with them. Or, for a lot of people, they're just going to make the decision to get out of the business." And the undocumented workers themselves? Like Ram Chandra, they will be expected to leave the jobs they work at so diligently, victimized by Congress's failure to create a realistic and workable immigration system.

* = Name changed

Subhani and Subhani Law


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