Today's Miami Herald screams the main front page article loud and clear:
Drive through the urban portions of Miami, my de facto hometown (well, since I left Cuba at the age of four) and you will see them, lunch buckets in hand and hard hats perched on their noggins. An army of undocumented aliens has built this city these past few years, obvious yet invisible, critical yet irrelevant (to many), as essential as they are collectively incognito.
Along Miami Beach, they wait on tables, clean hotel rooms, and manicure lawns. Entire teams of indocumentados descend upon our golf courses and corporate parks, neighborhoods and public property to mow, trim, and clean up what the rest of us take for granted. They make up an invisible underclass, the big pink elephant in the room no one down here really wants to mention.
Like so many individuals, the companies which employ these folks -- both small and global -- preserve the historical ostrich-like poise: head buried in the sand in denial of the obvious legal violations around them, well-feathered company butt sticking up in the air, obvious to anyone who bothers to look.
Well, this administration is looking: faced with a resounding defeat of the immigration reform he'd hoped to leave as his legacy,and stinging from criticism of the war and a cabinet all too contentious, President Bush has but one weapon in his arsenal with which to appease his remaining conservative base: enforcement. And nowhere is that more visible than in immigration.
With Americans demanding enforcement of existing laws, the Bush Administration has reached deep into existing rules and, all of the sudden, the ostrich isn't safe. As the Herald reports, since August 10 the Homeland Security Administration has launched a 17 point initiative including everything from Social Security's so-called "no match" letters, advising employers of possible enforcement due to SSN irregularities in their employees' records to increased bed numbers in detention centers to new pre-clearance rules for federal contractors. Fines have gone up, people are scared, share value will drop and corporate heads will invariably roll when the selected enforcement targets are made public.
Given that the vast majority of the Fortune 500 have SOME kind of federal contracting relationship, the stakes are high. The tools for compliance are there:
-internal I-9 audits
-HR/Immigration compliance database liaising
-HR training and hiring protocols which establish real time compliance from point of hire
And yet the majority of heads remain firmly stuck in the sand. I encourage counsel for these corporations to consider the historical fact that when it comes to enforcement, the bigger the USG's catch, the better. Mr. Bush is scrambling to leave a positive legacy; Congress is tangled up over the chronic need to address the high skill worker shortage with the need to secure our borders. The new enforcement directives will define the President's final period in Washington and if he cannot be remembered as the President who fixed the broken U.S. immigration system, he'll settle for "the President who enforced our immigration laws".
Drop me a line if you think it's time to cover your company's well-feathered yet pretty obvious liabilities...