A week after unveiling a major crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, the Bush administration is now conceding that its most heavily touted weapon in pursuing employers - an assault against Social Security fraud - will be nearly useless.Are these tips effective? Some DHS and ICE folks say they are:
That's because when the Social Security Administration warns employers about bogus identification numbers, it remains barred from also alerting the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that's supposed to hand out penalties.
In addition, federal promises to hold companies responsible for hiring illegal immigrants could potentially be stymied by several other issues: Employers are still not required to check a new employee's Social Security number against a free federal database, there could be long gaps between when an employee is hired to when the warnings are issued each year, and there is no way to follow up on employees who have been fired. In many cases, illegal workers could still hop from job to job without being caught.
The only way the government can punish an employer - with fines or criminal charges - is if someone first tips them off about potential fraud and then, during the course of the investigation, authorities discover evidence that Social Security warnings have been ignored.
"There are a number of people who do come forward and tell us an employer is not conforming with the law," said Veronica Valdez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. "While we don't get information directly from the Social Security Administration, we do see that we get a lot of tips."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the department's investigative branch, will aggressively work off such tips - using, among other tactics, raids - with an eye for those who are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
Time will tell what the effects of this new policy are--though some wonder how much last week's announcement was merely a "scare tactic." An attempt to inspire a renewed push for "comprehensive immigration reform"?
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Still, leaders of California industries that rely heavily on illegal labor, like agriculture and restaurants, say they aren't taking any chances. Trade groups that represent the sectors said they have strongly recommended that employers follow the new rules, regardless of the government's ability to trace its own threats.