The Bush administration yesterday renewed its drive to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal immigrants by slightly altering an earlier initiative stalled by a federal judge since last September.
If the new proposal satisfies the court, the government could begin warning 140,000 employers in writing as early as June about suspect Social Security numbers used by their employees and force businesses to resolve questions about their identities or fire them within 90 days.
The result could intensify an economic and political debate over the administration’s immigration policies in the months leading up to November’s elections for president and Congress.
The mailings, known as “no-match” letters, were enjoined by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco while he hears a lawsuit brought by a wide-ranging coalition of major American labor, business, farm and civil liberties groups.
The plaintiffs, including the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Civil Liberties Union, allege that the plan will cause major workplace disruptions and discriminate against legal workers, including native-born Americans.
A systematic effort to wean the U.S. economy off an estimated 8.7 million illegal workers has long been blocked by economic interests and civil rights concerns. But the Bush administration considers that effort the linchpin of its immigration enforcement efforts.
Critics have noted that the Social Security Administration’s inspector general has concluded the database used to cull suspicious numbers contains erroneous records on 17.8 million people, 70 percent of whom are native-born U.S. citizens. Even if the actual error rate of no-match letters is far lower, labor leaders say that unscrupulous employers will use the rule to burden or harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign.