Will Political Correctness Hamper Immigration Reform?

In a column published by this week, D.C. lawyers Mark Hopson and Thomas Green defend Corporate America against what they view as the federal government’s overly aggressive enforcement of laws prohibiting employers from hiring illegal alien workers. Without using the term, they blame political correctness as a major justification for their opinions, but if that’s what is stopping immigration reform, it is a problem that is easily fixed.

Hopson and Green, who successfully defended Tyson Foods against charges of hiring illegals in what is the most high-profile employer-illegal alien case to date, noted in their argument that there are conflicting rules and regulations which, in essence, can serve to set up employers for prosecution:

Current immigration law derives in large part from a 1986 act, which–as part of a compromise that provided amnesty to millions–required companies to determine if their employees were authorized to work in the U.S. … The law basically requires employers to verify two forms of identification, usually a driver’s license and a Social Security card. But high-quality counterfeit documents are available for sale in every city and town. And if an employer attempts to go beyond a cursory inspection of documents and ask a few questions, that employer almost certainly can be charged with violating laws prohibiting discrimination based on national origin. In fact, it is not uncommon for a company to be accused both of not pressing hard enough to screen illegal workers and of violating anti-discrimination laws for being too vigorous in challenging applicants’ credentials. There have even been occasions of businesses under simultaneous investigation by two separate sections of the Department of Justice for these contradictory offenses.

There is much truth in their argument. Countless professionals throughout America — are frequently hampered in the performance of their jobs and duties by fear of being charged with profiling or racism.

But advocating less, not more, enforcement of laws prohibiting employers from hiring illegal aliens is not the answer. If there are concerns about profiling based on race and ethnicity, then the answer is to simply treat every prospective new hire exactly the same. It’s like a retail outlet checking every customer’s ID to make sure they’re old enough to buy liquor; it may seem ridiculous require an obviously elderly man to prove he’s of age, but if the clerk is asking everyone, she isn’t profiling and isn’t being racist.

Furthermore, Hopson and Green say tougher enforcement of our borders is a much better use of government resources and would do more to stop illegal immigration than catching employers hiring unlawful aliens. Yet even with stepped-up border enforcement, migrants will continue to break into our country if they have employment opportunities waiting for them on the other side.

The overall goal of immigration reform should be to adopt disincentives for migrants to want to come to the United States illegally. To do that, any new immigration measures must also make it tougher on employers who hire illegal migrants.

Laws were toughened a few decades ago but enforcement of employer-alien laws have rarely been strictly enforced. That’s a major reason why the 1986 general alien amnesty did nothing to curb illegal immigration. As the newly "legalized" migrants came out from the shadows and took better-paying, higher profile jobs, they created a vacuum that was once again filled by hordes of new illegal migrants because the federal government did little to keep employers from re-hiring them.

Employers must be an integral part of any immigration reform effort. Most illegal migrants, who are from Mexico, are not coming to the United States to shop or attend a sporting event. They are coming to work.

According to federal officials, the government receives literally millions of forms from employees whose Social Security numbers don’t match government records. Who better than employers to check and confirm these numbers? The House version of tough new immigration reforms which passed in December includes a provision requiring employers to verify these numbers, and it makes sense that they do so. If anything, the government’s responsibility is to work on the creation of a fraud-resistant Social Security card.

Finally, the Government Accountability Office says "discussions among government agencies about sharing more information about workers who may be illegal immigrants ‘will not make a difference if the relevant federal agencies do not have credible enforcement programs,’" The Associated Press reports. In other words, if illegal aliens are identified but not arrested and deported, no amount of information-sharing among federal agencies (which is poor right now concerning employee information) will do any good.

It’s well-known among reform advocates that corporations and employers are generally opposed to strict new immigration rules because they enjoy the higher profitability that cheap immigrant labor produces. But the fact is, if employers are not a major part of reform efforts, no amount of border enforcement — though certainly an important aspect of reform — will produce the desired results.

As long as illegals are permitted to work freely, without them or their employers fearing criminalization by federal authorities, they will continue to stream across our border, putting a strain on local resources and the U.S. labor market. Lawmakers can’t be so preoccupied with insulting someone’s ethnicity they are paralyzed in their efforts to reform a broken, ineffectual system. The solution is an easy one and built on the long-held American tradition of equality: Treat everyone the same.