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Follow Law, INS Asks Employers

June 12, 1987|PATRICK McDONNELL | Times Staff Writer

Choosing Sea World as a setting, U.S. immigration authorities Thursday called on all area employers to comply with the controversial requirements of the new immigration law.

"Voluntary cooperation by employers is essential," said Harold Ezell, western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, as he spoke at a news conference at the aquatic park.

San Diego's reknowned marine zoological park was chosen for the event because it is also a major employer--some 2,400 people work there--and a top official of the facility expressed support for INS effort.

"I believe it is in the best interest of employers to hire people who have the legal right to live and work in the U.S.," said Don Hall, vice president for operations at Sea World, who appeared at the news conference with Ezell and other INS officials.

Shamu on the Scene

As the participants spoke, a person dressed in a costume resembling Shamu, the park's famous killer whale, stood in the background overlooking the proceedings.

The new immigration statute prohibits U.S. employers from knowingly hiring illegal aliens after last Nov. 6, the date the statute was signed into law. The theory behind the law--a theory disputed by many critics--is that the prohibition will dry up the U.S. job pool for illegal alien workers and, therefore, discourage foreigners from entering the United States without authorization. Employers who violate the law and continue hiring illegal aliens are subject to a range of fines and, in the case of flagrant repeat violators, imprisonment.

In enforcing the law, authorities are requiring that employers fill out a new form--known as as the I-9 form--for each new worker hired. Some business groups have protested that the forms are a burdensome nuisance.

However, the INS maintains that the forms can be filled out with a minimum of bother and can be effective in deterring illegal entry into the United States. "We feel this single little form . . . will help us regain control of our borders," said Ezell.

The form asks employers whether those hired are U.S. citizens or foreigners permitted to work in the United States. Employers are asked to verify the workers' statements by examining documents such as passports, social security cards and birth certificates.

Skirting the Law

Critics have maintained that illegal aliens will always find means--such as acquiring false documents--that will enable them to skirt the requirements of the law. There is also considerable pessimism about the ability of the INS, with its limited staff, to monitor the hiring practices of millions of U.S. employers, many of whom have become dependent on illegal alien labor. In addition, skeptics have said it is naive to hope for widespread "voluntary compliance" among employers.

Until June, 1988, INS officials will be conducting a large-scale information campaign that will include visits to inform employers of their responsibilities under the new law. Until next June, first-time violators will receive warnings before being fined.

In addition, the U.S. Border Patrol plans to give training sessions to assist employers in complying with the new requirements. This month, the INS said, some 7 million employers nationwide will be receiving 17-page handbooks explaining their responsibilities under the new law.

"We are looking for voluntary compliance; that is what this whole thing hinges on," said James Turnage, INS district director in San Diego. "We are obviously not looking to put an agent behind every tree or bush."

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