Obama's immigration plan has something for everyone
Over the last few months, President Barack Obama has made some announcements regarding his plan to go after companies that hire undocumented immigrants.
Most recently, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that companies seeking government contracts will have to use a government database called E-Verify to ensure that their employees are here legally.
"Requiring those who seek federal contracts to use this system will create a more reliable and legal workforce," she said on July 8, 2009. "The rule complements our department"s continued efforts to strengthen immigration law enforcement and protect critical employment opportunities.”
But she said the Obama administration will be scrapping a broader Bush administration effort to force all types of companies — not just those receiving federal contracts — to fire undocumented workers.
In Blueprint for Change , the campaign's agenda and collected promises, Obama was vague on his immigration plans. He said he wanted to "remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants," but little else. We found more details in his Dec. 1, 2007, interview with the Des Moines Register:
"We need a serious employer verification system, where employers when they hire somebody, find out what their work status is, if they are able to work legally ... and then hold employers accountable," he said. "I'm not particularly impressed with raids on plants that grab a handful of undocumented workers and send them home, leaving the company in a situation where they can just hire the next batch. ... I don't think we've been serious about employer sanctions."
Back in 2007, the Bush administration announced the Social Security No-Match rule, which would have required companies to fire employees with suspect Social Security numbers. Companies were sent a letter and given 90 days to comply. If they failed to meet that deadline, they would face thousands in fines.
Businesses fought the rule vehemently because of concerns about paperwork and fines. It was never implemented because it was blocked by a court order.
Meanwhile, Bush targeted one group of employers he could influence: companies that do contract work for the federal government. On June 6, 2008, Bush signed an executive order making it mandatory for government contractors to use E-Verify, a database operated by the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure their new hires were legal.
On July 2, 2009, the Obama administration showed it was willing to put some muscle into immigration enforcement for all types of companies, not just contractors, when it announced it was auditing 625 businesses to verify whether their workers were legal. Violations could result in fines or charges for the companies.
Six days later, Napolitano announced the administration would abandon the No-Match rule but still require government contractors to check employees through E-Verify.
The news has received mixed reviews. On one hand, it satisfies immigrant advocates and business leaders who have opposed the No-Match rule, but it still puts some requirements on some businesses. And while conservatives are happy to see the administration endorse E-Verify, they think killing No-Match will result in less enforcement.
As James Carafano, a homeland security expert, wrote on the conservative Heritage Foundation Web site, "E-Verify is an excellent program. It is, however, not mandatory for all employers. Thus, the first consequence of not issuing no-match letters … is that DHS will be doing less workplace enforcement, not more."
Senate Republicans are conflicted as well. During debate over a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department, the chamber adopted an amendment by Republican Jeff Sessions from Alabama that would make E-Verify mandatory for government contractors, as well as an amendment by Republican David Vitter of Louisiana that would prevent the department from using any money in the bill to shut down the No-Match program. While Sessions' amendment doesn't have an impact on Obama's plans one way or another — the Bush administration already made E-Verify mandatory — the Vitter amendment could stall Obama's plans to end the No-Match rule.
Dan Griswald, director of the free-market Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, said the recent announcements are a "classic compromise" on Obama's part because, though he's gotten tougher on employers in one sense, he's also backed off an even tougher Bush administration policy.
"He's done this in such a way that supporters and critics are not really satisfied one way or another," he said.
Griswald couldn't have said it better. Obama's supporters say it's not a perfect plan, but that he's certainly following through on his original campaign pledge. His opponents are happy he's keeping Bush's policy for E-Verify, but say scrapping the No-Match plan could result in fewer checks. There could be further action on this one in the future, but for now, we rate it a Compromise.
Department of Homeland Security,
press release on E-Verify announcement
, accessed July 10, 2009
Security Debrief, DHS Kills Social Security No Match Rule, Moves Forward With E-Verify , by Dawn Lurie, July 9, 2009
Washington Post, Obama Revives Bush Idea to Catch Illegal Workers , by By Spencer S. Hsu, July 9, 2009
Law Offices of Siskind Susser,
ABCs of Immigration: Social Security "No Match" Rule
, accessed July 9, 2009
Wall Street Journal, Immigration Crackdown Shifts Focus to Employers , by Miriam Jordan and Sabrina Shankman, July 2, 2009
Florida Sun Sentinal, Bush Begins E-Verify Immigration Crackdown , by William Gibson, June 9, 2008
Heritage Foundation, Homeland Security Department Guts Workplace Enforcement , by James Carafano, July 10, 2009
Interview with Tamar Jacoby, ImmigrationWorks USA, July 9, 2009
Interview with Dan Griswald, The Cato Foundation, July 13, 2009
Interview with Mary Giovagnoli, the Immigration Policy Center, July 9, 2009