On many days, Doug arrives at his restaurant management job in Costa Mesa and finds one or more illegal aliens waiting at the back door of the kitchen for a job.
Bill, the owner of a sheet metal plant in Santa Ana where 40% of the employees are undocumented, says that prospective workers line up at the factory gate on most Monday mornings in case there's an opening on his production line.
The selection of these job sites is hardly random. Through the informal grapevine in the barrios, the illegals know that these businesses, like countless other offices, factories and shops in Orange County, will hire workers without the documents required of most foreign-born job applicants.
In general, these employers aren't worried about the authenticity of Social Security cards and work permits presented by immigrant applicants, and, perhaps, will even look the other way if their workers don't have these papers.
"If I need a dishwasher, I need a dishwasher," said Doug, who does not want his last name to appear for fear of riling his employer. "As long as they give me a Social Security number, I don't care if the card is someone else's or a fake." Doug estimated that as many as 15 of the 20 workers in his restaurant are in the United States illegally.
Until May, 1978, most Social Security cards presented to employers were valid because obtaining a genuine card was easy. All anyone had to do was ask, and a card was issued, without any questions about citizenship. But in response to reports of abuse, Congress passed a law requiring applicants to present evidence, such as a birth certificate or passport, proving U. S. citizenship.
The result was an active black market for counterfeit cards. According to illegals in Orange County, cards can be purchased at dozens of private apartments and public locations throughout the county, including Centennial Park and Civic Center Plaza in Santa Ana, for prices ranging from $25 to well over $100.
At the low end, the buyer gets a piece of paper resembling a Social Security card with absolutely no assurances that the number is valid. For $100 or more, the illegal might purchase a card with a valid number.
The validity of the number is considered important because it determines whether a worker will receive credit for paying Social Security taxes under his name. However, possessing a card with an illegitimate number is hardly disastrous.
It usually takes the Social Security Administration about four months to discover that a number is wrong or that a worker is using someone else's number. And once the discovery is made, the agency has no way of knowing whether the discrepancy is the result of an honest mistake, such as a typographical error, or a deliberate, deceptive act.
Typically, the agency notifies the employer of the discrepancy and assigns the earnings reported on the invalid number to a special account established for wages of suspect or unknown origin. However, the actual Social Security contributions made by the worker and the employer, which would amount to a total of $996 per year for a full-time employee earning the $3.35-per-hour minimum wage, are treated like those paid by anyone else and transferred to the central Social Security account.
Neither employers nor the agency are required to unravel the confusion.
Some companies attempt to sidestep the issue of their employees' citizenship by hiring only workers referred through the state Employment Development Department.
"Hiring from the employment department should protect us," said Ben Bukewihge, owner of the B. P. John Furniture Co. in Irvine, a factory that has been raided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service about five times in the last five years.
Bukewihge said he assumes that the state screens the job applicants for citizenship, leaving him free to believe that the documents presented by new workers are valid.
However, Neil Rosenfeld, manager of the employment office in Santa Ana, said that such assumptions are incorrect and should not be used by employers to absolve themselves of responsibility for hiring illegals.
Rosenfeld said the state's job registration forms ask applicants whether they are citizens. "If they lie, we have no recourse," he said. "It's not my feeling that we are looking for illegals. Our job is to place people in jobs and to pay unemployment insurance."
910 Latinos Placed
Rosenfeld said that his office, which serves the huge Latino population of Santa Ana, placed 910 Latinos in jobs between July, 1985, and April, 1986, about one-third of the office's total placements. However, he said the department had no way of determining what percentage of the placements, if any, involved illegals.
Even if an illegal is referred by the employment department, he is still required to present a Social Security card, a fact that sends many workers scrambling for fake documents.