Today a U.S. District Court in San Francisco begins examining the legality of a planned U.S. government crackdown which, if implemented, will, among other things:
- make the cost of your produce skyrocket
- paralyze the few remaining active sectors of the U.S. construction industry
- shut down restaurants and make the cost of your next roof repair triple
At issue is the recently announced plan to step up enforcement by the Social Security Administration of so-called "no match" letters, the process by which the SSA notifies an employer when the Social Security information submitted by an employee does not match federal records. Essentially, employers have now been placed in the position of "immigration police", and the crackdown will devastate sectors of the economy historically dependent upon foreign labor. This morning's Wall Street Journal succintly reveals the administration's oxymoronic policy shift:
"The Bush administration prepared the crackdown after Congress failed to pass an immigration bill that would have legalized the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants."
Whatever side of the immigration debate you fall into -- and after 20+ years of living and breathing immigration I myself am still somewhat undecided on the best solution -- one must admit that the 180 degree turn from supporting a resolution intended legalize migrants to target enforcement directed at U.S. enterprises reliant upon them is a bit perplexing.
Theories abound: some believe that in the wake of his failure to pass immigration reform, Mr. Bush sees his legacy inextricably linked to the neoconservative crowd. If you can't legalize 'em, shut 'em down...even if "'em" means lawful U.S. enterprises and even if the U.S. consumer feels the brunt of the enforcement in his/her bank account. Others believe that the pragmatic-sounding-but-economically-unfeasible approach -- "let's just enforce the laws we already have on the books" -- is a politically more neutral manner of showing that, well, the government is at least doing something...
Whatever the reasons behind the crackdown, a number U.S. industries are in a near-panic, and the legal review which begins today will determine the fate of many U.S. businesses. Initiated by the AFL-CIO (another oxymoronic reality for an old-timer who remembers when unions were vehemently anti-immigrant) and later joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United Fresh Produce Association, the National Roofing Contractors Association and the Association of Nursery and Landscapers, the legal challenge is based upon the argument that the enforcement could lead to discrimination against of firing of U.S. born workers or legal immigrants. The argument convinced a federal judge in August, and the enforcement effort was stayed pending the result of the proceedings which begin today.
If the challenge proves unsuccessful and the administration initiates the strict enforcement policy , employers of some 7.3 million workers in the food service, construction, housekeeping, agricultural and numerous other sectors will face fines in excess of the current $2200 per-worker limit. The roofers told the WSJ that their 4300 members have "no way to run [their] business if this goes forward." In U.S. agriculture, an estimated 70% of workers are illegal immigrants.
You can see where this is going.
This is not a political question because everyone on ALL sides of the fence agrees that the U.S. must both control its borders AND remain economically strong. And we all agree that, well, picking tomotoes is just not something we really have time to do. It is, instead, a complex question which integrates our nation's economic need to fill jobs Americans will simply not take, our commitment to an already-battered U.S. consumer economy, and our belief in our nation's history of wisdom, generosity, and decency in dealing with uninvited migrants over the centuries.
Left to the reasoning in Washington, the Melting Pot will soon contain nothing but hot water.