Monday, October 15, 2007

Federal judge blocks use of Social Security numbers to crack down on undocumented workers

As part of a crackdown on illegal immigration, the Bush administration had threatened criminal prosecution for employers that did not clear up issues with their workers' Social Security numbers, but a federal judge in California has extended an order blocking the move. The ruling has implications for many rural employers, such as those in agriculture and food processing.

The "no-match" letters told employers they had 93 days to fix the problem or be considered a criminal, but that's "not an accurate statement of the law," said U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The government had planned to send 140,000 letters to employers of 8 million workers starting last month, but the American Civil Liberties Union, business groups and unions asked for an injunction, writes Bob Egelko. They argued that the letters would lead to firing of legal workers as a result of errors on the part of employers or the Social Security Administration, and that it could encourage discrimination against workers with foreign names. Breyer extended the temporary restraining order, saying, "There would be irreparable harm, serious irreparable injury" to employees if the letters were used. (Read more)

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he was disappointed by the ruling but said the department would continue to go forward with its effort to heighten enforcement efforts against illegal workers. “We will continue to aggressively enforce our immigration laws while reviewing all legal options available to us in response to this ruling,” he said in a statement. A 2006 report from the inspector general of the SSA said 17.8 million of the agency's 435 million individual records had discrepancies that could send a no-match letter to a legal worker, reports The New York Times. Among those records with errors, 12.7 million were native-born American citizens.

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