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Work authorization for immigrants: the issue of ‘silent raids’

Most undocumented immigrants are in the workforce. According to Pew Hispanic Center, out of about 11 million undocumented people, about 8 million are working.

There is wide agreement, however, that the system for verifying compliance with federal rules on work authorization is badly flawed. As we discussed in our August 2 post, audits of employers by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) are supposed to take the place of the in-your-face raids that occurred during the Bush administration.

In practice, however, these employment eligibility audits have come to be called “silent raids.” They especially impact certain industries. The restaurant industry, in particular, is significantly affected.

Employers are supposed to fill out a standard form, called the I-9, to notify federal authorities about employees’ work authorization. But sometimes the ICE challenges employees’ work authorization and demands reams of documents from the employer.

Compliance with such demands is burdensome for employers. E-Verify, an electronic system intended to make the compliance system easier for new hires, has had many glitches. Employers are not required to use it.  And it does not apply to workers who were hired years ago.

In addition, employers can be fined for providing inaccurate information about employees’ work eligibility.

The cumulative effect of all of these difficulties could discourage some employers from hiring. That result is obviously not in the best interest of employees either.

Employees who are undocumented are of course also at risk for deportation. Yes, the Deferred Action program is in place for young immigrants who meet certain conditions. But the program does not apply to all immigrants.

Overall, then, the employment eligibility compliance process remains quite dysfunctional. And silent raids are not really helping to fix it.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Begins New Crackdown on Hiring Illegal Workers,” Miriam Jordan and Julie Jargon, September 12, 2013

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