President Bush came into office promising to fix the country's broken immigration laws that, he said, were preventing willing American employers from hiring willing foreign workers. Nothing could be further from this vision than the employer crackdown that his Department of Homeland Security recently announced.

Why has the administration so totally reversed course?

It is not like it does not understand that the "problem" of illegal immigration is purely a function of existing immigration laws, not "evil-doers." These laws don't exactly roll out the welcome mat for high-skilled immigrants that Los Angeles or Silicon Valley badly needs. But they are downright hostile toward "unskilled" workers who form the backbone of the agricultural, landscaping and hotel industry in the Golden State and elsewhere.

On paper, there are two types of visas available for unskilled workers: H-2A for campesinos or farm workers and H-2B for other seasonal jobs. But thanks to copious red tape, these visas rarely ever arrive on time for the job. Even worse, they are usually good for less than a year and can only be renewed a few times. Once they expire, workers have to return home because neither they nor their employers can apply for a green card or permanent residency. It's a dead-end process.

The White House tried to get Congress last month to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a guest worker component to create a way for future foreign workers to legally live and work in this country and also regularize the status of undocumented aliens already in the country. But GOP nativists aided by conservative talk radio and some Democrats killed the bill as "amnesty," insisting instead on a tough, enforcement-only approach.

The Homeland Security Department's employer crackdown effectively embraces their approach. In 30 days, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will start sending letters to employers alerting them to any discrepancy in the Social Security numbers their employees are using with government records. Employers who discover that employees had given them false numbers something that undocumented workers often do will be required to fire them within 90 days or face up to $10,000 in fines per employee. Repeat violations could bring jail time.

Al Qaeda?

Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the architect of the crackdown, noted that the SSA expects to send 140,000 of these "no-match" letters covering more than 8 million people. But how precisely any of this will enhance national security, the core reason why his department exists, he has yet to explain. Does he really believe that Al Qaeda operatives are holding jobs illegally and will drop their plans to scurry for the border once these letters start rolling in?


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