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Becoming Legal : A guide to the new immigration law in the workplace

June 30, 1987|Frank del Olmo | Times Editorial Writer

On Wednesday, another phase of the nation's recently revised immigration laws will take effect.

These may well be the most important changes made in U.S. immigration law in the last quarter century. They will certainly have the broadest impact.

For as of that date, practically every employer in the country who hires someone to work for them must ascertain that the worker is a legal resident of the United States, either a U.S. citizen or a foreign alien registered with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Any employer who does not at least try to determine whether a person working for him is legally in the United States is liable to pay a fine. If he is found guilty of serious or repeated offenses, he may even go to jail. And the new rules apply whether the employer is a homemaker who wants to hire a maid, a gardener or other domestic employee, or a large company with a work force in the thousands.

These penalties, most commonly referred to as "employer sanctions," are the cornerstone of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan late last year.

They are intended to stem the flow of illegal immigrants to this country by drying up the lure that many immigration specialists believe draws them here from abroad--jobs. Already, there are some signs, such as a drop in illegal alien apprehensions at the border, that they are having at least a short-term impact.

Of course even as these new rules were being drawn up by Congress, there was serious disagreement as to whether they are necessary. Many employers groups, particularly in agriculture, argued that foreign workers fill an important need for this country by doing difficult and low-paying jobs that U.S. citizens don't want.

Other critics, especially civil-rights advocates representing Latinos and Asian-Americans, warned that the new rules could have negative side effects, such as exacerbating the employment discrimination that minorities have faced in the past.

The complex and often-bitter debate on those questions has been thoroughly chronicled. The purpose of this special supplement is not to rehash the arguments or to retell the history of the new law. It is simply intended to inform our readers, whether they are employers or workers, about how the new rules will work.

As with other aspects of the new immigration law, such as the legalization or "amnesty" program that went into effect on May 5, it is expected that Southern California will feel the impact of the new law most immediately, because of the large number of immigrants who live and work here.

Like the special supplement about the legalization program that these newspapers published in May, this guide is printed in both English and Spanish since the largest number of immigrant workers here come from Latin America.

By cooperating with U.S. immigration officials, various community groups and immigration specialists in preparing this guide, The Times and La Opinion hope that they can contribute to alleviating any fear or misunderstanding that has been generated by the new rules and regulations.

A guide to the new immigration law in the workplace was produced by the staffs of the Los Angeles Times and La Opinion. THE STAFF Editors: Bret Israel and Terry Schwadron Contributing Editor: J. Gerardo Lopez Art Director: Tom Trapnell Writers: Stephen Braun, Frank del Olmo Researcher: Alma Cook Translators: Cal Norman, Hugo Valicente Photographers: Gary Friedman, Jose Galvez, Ken Lubas, Ken Hively Special Thanks: Gricel Sanabria, Steve Mitchell

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