Nonprofits Fret Over Proposed Immigration Bill

William Finn Bennett, North County Times (Escondido, Cal.), Jan. 24, 2006

If an immigration reform bill moving through Congress becomes law, nonprofit organizations that help day laborers find work without making sure each client has a legal right to work in the U.S. could be subject to criminal prosecution, jail sentences and fines of up to $50,000.

Two North County nonprofit organizations that provide such services to at least some illegal immigrants said Monday that passage of such a law could also lead to increased abuse of illegal immigrants, who would be deprived of the protections they provide their clients by screening and tracking those who hire workers.

In phone interviews Monday, officials with the two groups, Interfaith Community Services in Escondido and an Oceanside group called SER, or Service, Education and Redevelopment, said they help protect workers and employers by obtaining contact information from them before connecting laborers to employers and following up on problems.

SER officials said they check for documentation that their laborers can legally work, but that some illegal workers do fall through the group’s screening attempts. Interfaith does not require laborers to prove their immigration status before seeking work through the organization.

Illegal immigrants probably make up at least half of Interfaith’s clients, spokeswoman Debra Andreasen said Monday.

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One feature in the bill calls for an employee verification system that would require employers and hiring halls to contact the federal government and provide identification numbers on laborers’ visas or social security cards. Those numbers would then be checked against databases to confirm their validity. The government would then issue decisions on whether individual workers can be legally hired.

The bill makes it clear that the law would apply not only to employers but to any organization that helps workers obtain jobs.

Organizations that show patterns of breaking the law could face criminal prosecution.

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