Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Some Nashville employers encourage applicants to buy fake immigration papers, some write law to escape $1000 fine

"They don't check over here"

$1000 fine removed from bill requiring employers to check immigrant database

WSMV Channel 4 reported here that it caught multiple Nashville employers telling a supposed job applicant that fake immigration papers, or no immigration papers at all, would not be a problem in getting hired.

A Hispanic WSMV producer approached various businesses, and this was a typical exchange:

"The producer asked the manager if fake immigration papers would be OK."

"'Yes. Everybody in here has those. They don't check over here,' the manager said."

One wonders - are employers being scrutinized for their behavior as much as their immigrant employees are?

Enforcement of immigration law against employers is on the rise, but the number of employers charged with knowingly hiring illegal immigrants is still less than 1000 per year, according to this April 23 article in the Houston Chronicle: "Criminal charges have been filed this year against 527 people, compared with 718 for all of fiscal 2006 and just 25 in fiscal 2002."

In regard to the new immigration laws winding their way through the Tennessee state legislature, employers weren't able to derail a bill to force them to check immigration status, but they did successfully knock out a provision that would punish them for breaking the law. According to this story in the Tennessean, the Tennessee State Senate passed a bill to require employers to conduct immigration status background checks, but it "was amended at the request of business interests ... to do away with fines of up to $1,000 per violation against employers who don't do the required background checks."

Are we comfortable with punishing only the outsider for his business deal with an insider? If both sides were pursued and punished equally and to the full extent of the law, would the law continue to exist in its current form?

It can't be inevitable that U.S. employers, who have a vote and influence in the legislative and executive branches, will be treated better than their voteless and uninfluential immigrant employees for an employment contract they both willingly entered into. Because visaless expatriates will never be able to vote, it is up to conscientious legislators, citizens and groups like the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition to speak for balance, fairness, and how those values apply to our employment laws and their enforcement.

Photo by Nikita Kashner

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