Judge Grants Request To Block Plan On Illegal Labor

Wednesday, October 10th 2007, 6:53 pm
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal judge on Wednesday granted a request by labor and civil liberties organizations to temporarily block the U.S. government from proceeding with a program to crack down on businesses that may be employing illegal immigrants.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security could not go ahead with their plan to send joint letters warning businesses they'll face penalties if they keep workers whose Social Security numbers don't match their names.

Breyer said the new work-site rule would likely impose hardships on businesses and their workers. Employers would incur new costs to comply with the regulation that the government hasn't evaluated, and innocent workers unable to correct mistakes in their records in the given time would lose their jobs, the judge wrote.

``The plaintiffs have demonstrated they will be irreparably harmed if DHS is permitted to enforce the new rule,'' Breyer wrote.

The so-called ``no match'' letters, including a Department of Homeland Security warning, were supposed to start going out in September but were held after labor groups and immigrant activists filed a federal lawsuit.

The government had about 140,000 letters ready to go, each containing the names of 10 or more employees with mismatches in their records. About 8 million employees would be affected, according to court documents.

The decision Wednesday was disappointing, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, but wasn't more than a ``bump in the road'' in the agency's drive to vigorously enforce laws aimed at keeping illegal immigrants out of the work force.

The government will evaluate the ``modest legal obstacles'' presented by the judge, addressing them in litigation or outside court, as it examines its options and determines whether to appeal the decision, Chertoff said.

``I don't think there's anything in the judge's ruling that is insurmountable,'' Chertoff told The Associated Press by telephone. ``The key is to move forward. We're committed to using every tool available to enforce our immigration laws.''

But plaintiffs, which include the AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saw the decision as a significant victory against a program they believe would foster discrimination on the work site, lead to job losses by lawful employees and expose businesses to additional expenses and the fear of prosecution.

``Judge Breyer's decision today reassures authorized workers and U.S. citizens that their rights will be protected,'' said Marielena Hincapie, with the National Immigration Law Center, an attorney on the case. ``We're very pleased to find the court held there is a serious question whether the Department of Homeland Security has exceeded its authority.''

The injunction blocks the implementation of the government's plan until the lawsuit is resolved or an appeals court overturns this judge's decision.

The government had argued that the rule doesn't impose an expense and simply provides guidelines to businesses that want to avoid liability for hiring undocumented workers.

``If an employer gets an indication of problems with an employee's Social Security number or their name, they've got to ask about it,'' Chertoff said. ``That seems commonsense to me.''

In August, Chertoff announced the agency would start notifying businesses that if workers were unable to clear up problems with their Social Security numbers within 90 days, the employees would have to be terminated. If not, their bosses could face criminal fines and other sanctions.

The ruling Wednesday came as Latinos in northern Virginia filed a lawsuit against Prince William County in an attempt to halt the implementation of a resolution that aims to deny a wide range of public services to illegal immigrants.