The Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill was rammed through the Senate last month and is now nearing a vote in the House. As the Senate was preparing to act, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joined by other civil rights groups and lawyers, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco that clearly shows why this bill should not be passed. The bill will encourage discrimination against minorities, chiefly Hispanics.
MALDEF's San Francisco suit, International Molders v. Nelson, was brought on behalf of factory workers and employers against the Immigration and Naturalization Service for violation of rights during "Project Jobs" last April. The suit charges that raiding INS officers violated the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments to the Constitution. Officers entered work places without warrants or consent, and detained workers without probable cause simply because they looked Hispanic. They either failed to advise these detainees of their rights to counsel and to remain silent or forced them, some with threats of physical harm, to give up their rights. The four employers who are plaintiffs in the suit charge that the raids substantially interfered with business operations and resulted in damage to their premises.
By INS's own admission, Project Jobs was very carefully planned, orchestrated and publicized in advance. Yet the actual raids were carried out in a manner that ran roughshod over the rights of Hispanic citizens, aliens and their employers--abuses that are a shockingly common part of INS work place sweeps.
Employers and Hispanics have many things to fear from immigration raids in the work place. Unfortunately, we can expect such raids to continue and even increase if the Simpson- Mazzoli bill is enacted, for several reasons:
The bill calls for sanctions against employers who knowingly hire undocumented aliens, and requires that employers verify the legal status of their employees. This provision dramatically shifts the burden of enforcement from the INS to the employer, making the employer a "surrogate" INS officer, and making the work place an INS clearance station.
The new immigration law would be enforced, as the current one is, by the INS. The INS has received much blame for the failure of the current law, and will be under great pressure to make a new one work. Therefore, we can expect intensified enforcement activities, including work place raids.
The abuses engendered by work place raids have persisted despite lawsuits and prohibitions imposed by federal courts. It is unlikely that these raids will be reduced under a new law that emphasizes work place enforcement.
Beyond the disruption and lowered productivity associated with work place raids, employers and Hispanics have something else to fear from employer sanctions. As even the most honest taxpayer fears an IRS audit, so an employer is sure to dread a compliance check by the INS. No one willingly chooses to be on the hot seat of governmental inspection. One way to avoid inviting both inspections and raids is not to employ too many Hispanics. Contrary to claims made by the bill's supporters, employer sanctions would be burdensome indeed. Their weight would fall most heavily upon employers and upon Hispanics who already bear an unfair share of this country's 9.8 percent unemployment rate.
In passing the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, the Senate has missed an important opportunity to bring about real, positive immigration reform that addresses the causes of migrant flow rather than just effects and political expediency. Even employer sanctions, even high unemployment here, even the worst that the INS can offer will not deter people who are forced to leave behind their homes and families because they have no option.
Our country's so-called immigration problem is economic at base. Simpson-Mazzoli will fail because it does not address the need for economic development assistance for Mexico and other of our neighbors in this hemisphere. The House still has the opportunity to move responsibly to remedy the glaring faults in the bill now before it. It should do so.