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If You Look 'Foreign,' It's 'No Help Wanted' : Immigration: Employer sanctions have not discouraged illegal entry by job-seekers; they have caused discrimination, and must be repealed.

April 15, 1990|EDWARD R. ROYBAL | Rep. Edward R. Roybal is a Democrat representing East Los Angeles.

When employer sanctions were debated in Congress, many of my colleagues shared my concern that the employer sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) would cause employers to discriminate against Latinos, Asians and other U.S. citizens and legal workers who happen to look "foreign" or speak English with an accent.

Three years after the implementation of employer sanctions, I regret to say that our concerns have been confirmed by the General Accounting Office, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the California Employment and Housing Commission, the New York City Commission on Human Rights and various other major organizations.

On March 29, the GAO released a report concluding that employer sanctions caused a "widespread pattern of discrimination" against U.S. citizens and others eligible to work in this country. The 1986 law stipulated that if such discrimination were found, Congress could repeal the sanctions provision. I have introduced legislation calling for such a repeal. It is now up to Congress to decide whether this country will allow this blatant discrimination to continue.

If Congress chooses to keep employer sanctions unchanged, Latinos, Asians and others will continue to suffer unwarranted rejection by employers who do not want to chance hiring a "foreign"-looking or -sounding person out of fear that he or she may be legally ineligible to work in the United States. Nearly 20% of employers who responded to the GAO survey admitted that they had discriminated on the basis of national origin and citizenship as a result of employer sanctions. In some areas, the number reporting discrimination was substantially higher: 29% in Los Angeles, 28% in Texas.

Yet the GAO report shows that, overall, employers have not stopped hiring undocumented workers, which was the reason for imposing sanctions in the first place.

In addition, the number of arrests by the Immigration and Naturalization Service Border Patrol on the Mexican border has increased. There were 49,736 last November, 85,811 in February. These numbers would seem to refute the argument that employer sanctions have been successful in deterring undocumented workers from coming into this country.

Some members of Congress believe that reducing discrimination is simply a matter of educating employers. But the GAO claims that the INS' efforts to educate employers have already been successful. And sanctions have been in place for three years. How much longer do employers need to understand this law--three more years, four? While employers are becoming further educated about something they should have known about three years ago, countless citizens and legally authorized workers are being denied a livelihood.

Worse yet are the recommendations to establish a better verification system through a national ID card. The proponents do not recognize that discrimination often occurs before a job applicant has an opportunity to have his or her status verified.

According to the GAO report, many employers have adopted a "U.S. Citizens Only" hiring practice. Additionally, creating and funding a verification system or adapting a current ID card, such as driver's licenses or Social Security cards, would be costly in this time of extreme budget constraints, as well as a guaranteed bureaucratic nightmare to administer.

An identification card also raises various civil-liberties concerns. A centralized data bank would make personal information available to employers and possibily millions of others throughout the country. Even a "voluntary" national identification card would not be voluntary to foreign-looking or -sounding persons because they would be the only ones asked to present such a card.

Employer sanctions have not accomplished Congress' primary expectation in 1986, which was to prevent illegal immigration. They have imposed a burden of discrimination on American citizens and legal residents who are being denied the right to work.

This gives Congress only one responsible option: Repeal employer sanctions.

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