False papers

Millions of illegal immigrants have found legitimate work in the United States because fraudulent documentation is so easy to come by. A couple of hundred bucks at a local swap meet buys the forged paperwork employers need for their payroll records, including a Social Security number.

That golden ticket can be just about any nine-digit combination. It might belong to a taxpaying citizen, or it might be stored in a computer somewhere near Washington, awaiting assignment to a baby not yet born. Business owners can never be sure. Shaking down a dark-haired or Spanish-speaking applicant for further proof of citizenship or immigration status can invite a discrimination complaint, so bosses may extend job offers knowing the new hire might be an illegal immigrant.

The federal government tracks payroll discrepancies between Social Security numbers and the names attached to them. And for years, the Social Security Administration has done nothing more than mail letters when W-2 data doesn’t jibe. Even when audits revealed dozens of workers in several states using the same Social Security number, Washington bureaucrats looked the other way.

But in the wake of the national backlash against the federal government’s refusal to enforce immigration laws, the Department of Homeland Security will announce new enforcement measures to prevent the use of fraudulent Social Security numbers and crack down on illegal hiring — and the burden will be put on businesses.

The Social Security Administration will notify employers and employees when a worker’s W-2 data doesn’t match the information in the government’s database. If the worker can’t resolve the differences and prove legal status within 60 days, businesses must fire the worker.

Refusal to terminate improperly documented workers can result in fines of between $250 and $10,000 per worker, per incident.

The policy could have a profound effect on the Las Vegas Valley economy. A Review-Journal investigation determined that between 120,000 and 200,000 Clark County residents are illegal immigrants. It’s safe to say tens of thousands of these illegals are employed by licensed businesses under bogus Social Security numbers.

For businesses that have complained about their inability to determine a worker’s immigration status, this policy — if enforced — will give them the tools to root out illegals.

But it won’t be enough to keep illegals out of the work force without some backup from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Without federal follow-up on termination orders, this policy will result in a massive churning of the blue-collar work force.

Businesses should have some responsibility in verifying that their employees can work in the United States legally. But it’s the federal government’s responsibility to control the country’s borders and deport those who’ve entered America illegally.

This Homeland Security policy is a good start in taming the flood of illegal immigrants. But the Bush administration is naïve if it thinks illegals will simply leave the country over this inconvenience. Without the probability of deportation, this change will have the same effect as the nation’s current immigration policy — nothing.

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