Thursday, March 08, 2007

Weeding Out the Undocumented... At Work

First, it was the Costa Mesa City Council taking federal law into their own hands by voting to deputize police officers as immigration agents...
And now, much of the nation is following. First it was just the Minuteman Project, but now it has become a giant monster.

So what is it about these anti-immigration measures taking off in Orange County, and spreading throughout the rest of California, and being copied elsewhere in the nation? As a native Orange County resident, I live in the middle of all of this...
And I want to examine the issues surrounding local governments enforcing immigration law. Today, we begin in Mission Viejo, where the city is trying to rid iteself of any and all undocumented workers. They want to use a federal program to help them do so, but is it really effective? Follow me down below for more...

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

So where was I? Oh, yes... Mission Viejo. (From OC Register)

Mission Viejo has joined the national immigration debate, adopting an ordinance requiring its employees and contractors to participate in a federal program meant to weed out unauthorized workers.

"We will be setting an example for all those in the community," said Mayor Pro Tem John Paul Ledesma, who put the ordinance on the agenda. The council unanimously approved the measure on its first reading on Monday. If it's approved on a second reading, it will go into effect July 1.

The city's decision would require participation in the Department of Homeland Security's Basic Pilot Program, which is free and Internet-based. It requires verification that city employees and those contracted with the city are legally authorized to work in the United States.

So Mission Viejo now wants to join the "Basic Pilot Program", and use it to prevent "illegal aliens" from getting a city-related job. Sounds good, doesn't it? What problem could there possibly be with screening employees to ensure that they are here legally?

Actually, there are more problems than Mission Viejo could possibly imagine. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) gives us a rundown of all the serious problems associated with Basic Pilot:

In August 2005, the Government Accountability Office reviewed Basic Pilot and found several problems, the most significant being that the program could not detect identity fraud. Other problems include employer noncompliance and Homeland Security delays and errors in entering information into its databases. GAO also said rampant document and identity fraud “have made it difficult for employers who want to comply with the employment verification process to ensure that they hire only authorized workers and have made it easier for unscrupulous employers to knowingly hire unauthorized workers.”

Hmmm... So how is Basic Pilot supposed to work in weeding out undocumented workers when the program cannot even detect fraud in those documents? And how is Homeland Security supposed to handle this program when they still have a backlog of about ONE MILLION PEOPLE waiting for a decision from their Citizenship and Immigration Bureau? Perhaps the GAO Report is correct, and the current weaknesses in the program may bite back and hurt the employers and employees.

But even if Basic Pilot does not work in screening out undocumented workers, can some employers still (mis)use the program to discriminate against workers? The National Immigration Law Center thinks so:

The 2002 independent evaluation of Basic Pilot discovered that employers engaged in prohibited employment practices, including preemployment screening, a practice that not only denies workers a job but also the opportunity to contest database inaccuracies; adverse employment action based on tentative nonconfirmations, which penalizes workers while they and the appropriate agency (DHS or SSA) work to resolve database errors; and failure to inform workers of their rights under the program.

So if Homeland Security cannot possibly handle a program like Basic Pilot, and if employers can be tempted to misuse the program to discriminate against employees, then why should municipalities like Mission Viejo participate in it? And if this program is not effective in its supposed goal, then why should we pay such a high cost in terms of more money, less privacy, and more discrimination for it?

Maybe that lawyer and that bishop are right about this program:

"It's an anti-immigrant ordinance and it's anti-business as well," said Ana Maria Patino, an attorney and Latina activist who lives in Laguna Beach. "(Undocumented workers) are not going to work for these contractors and if they're the kind of business that relies on a lot of undocumented workers because they can't get other people to do those jobs, they will lose business." [...]

Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto, an advocate for undocumented immigrants, said in a statement that Mission Viejo's action just "further confirms the need for a comprehensive immigration reform.

"This is a punitive measure that will do little to diminish the undocumented population," Soto said.

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