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Firms Brace for Law on Immigrants : Efforts Under Way to Comply With New Documentation Rules

May 03, 1987|JESUS SANCHEZ | Times Staff Writer

At the headquarters of Kelly Services in Troy, Mich., a new hot line has been installed to handle an expected flood of questions. New forms have been printed and new policies written. The staff has been briefed. New filing cabinets--650 of them, one in each branch office--await loads of additional paper work.

"We're ready to roll right now," said Irene Adams, senior vice president of the nation's largest temporary help agency.

The preparations are part of Kelly's strategy to comply with the new U.S. immigration law, which requires businesses to inspect and collect various identification documents from all new hires, including American citizens. With 525,000 people hired each year, Kelly must overcome an administrative hurdle to comply with the law.

"The start-up is going to be arduous," said Adams, who spent four months conferring with company lawyers and other staff on new procedures and policies. "It's going to take a good 18 months before things get back to normal."

Landmark Law

Employers across the nation are bracing themselves for the landmark law, designed to halt the flow of illegal aliens into the United States and signed by President Reagan last November. The law provides for amnesty for some illegal aliens and imposes penalties on employers who violate its regulations. The formal regulations to implement the law were not issued in final form until Friday. Enforcement begins June 1.

However, even before that, when the government circulated proposed regulations, the business community discovered that the law, besides imposing penalties and extra paper work, touches a sensitive nerve in minority communities.

Sears, Roebuck, for instance, recently drew sharp criticism from Latino and church activists for its continued refusal to hire illegal aliens, even though the applicants stated that they were eligible for amnesty under the new law and intended to apply for it.

Sears has maintained its position even though the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in early April announced a change in the proposed regulations to allow employers to hire illegal aliens until Sept. 1 as long as they declare their intention to apply for amnesty. Previous versions of the rules, in effect, banned such hiring.

But Sears spokesman C. W. Rule said from the company's Chicago headquarters: "If any INS guidelines have been changed, we have not received any notification."

To immigrant rights groups, the Sears case points up how little some employers know about the new law. As a result, such groups say, they have received complaints about employers firing illegal aliens and denying jobs to foreign-looking job applicants suspected of being in the United States without proper immigration documents.

"Those most adversely affected will be those of Hispanic or Asian origin," warned Linda Wong, associate counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The INS will begin enforcing the regulations June 1 and, before then, will distribute about 8 million pamphlets about the law to employers. The agency says one month is enough time for business to learn the rules. Others are not so sure.

"There are a lot of people who don't know anything about the law," said Los Angeles attorney Martin L. Sturman, who is advising business clients about the new legislation. "Business people will be paranoid for some time. They may break the law by being super-cautious and be inadvertently discriminating."

But many employers expect no major problems arising from the law. "This is not really a big, major deal," said Gary Weaver, director of employee relations at Disneyland. Although the Magic Kingdom will have to lease an extra photocopier to copy documents submitted by the 4,000 employees hired each year, Weaver said the cost of complying with the law is insignificant.

Difficult to Plan

Still, with the final version of the regulations issued only on Friday, many employers found it difficult to plan and were concerned about the conflicting advice they received. "I attended a seminar where the government officials were arguing among themselves about what the act said," recalled George Berger, vice president of human resources at the Fort Worth headquarters of Tandy Corp., parent firm of the Radio Shack electronics and computer store chain.

"Employers . . . want to make sure they comply with the law," said Cathie Shattuck, a labor and employment lawyer in Washington, who has been receiving at least six calls day from employers seeking information. "Usually they don't call till they are in trouble."

Shortly after the law was passed last year, more than 1,000 companies attended a Merchants and Manufacturers Assn. immigration seminar. The large turnout "indicated there was much concern in the business community" about what the regulations implementing the law were going to be, association spokesman Lou Custrini said.

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