Californians are becoming increasingly frustrated with their government's inability to control the flow of illegal migration into California.
With 30% of the nation's illegal immigrants within our borders, California has borne a disproportionate share of the nation's immigration burden. Certainly, governmental services have been strained. The poor economy and shrinking local and state tax revenues have exacerbated the problems and heightened frustrations. No doubt, that's why a recent Field Poll revealed that three out of four Californians considered illegal immigration a "very serious problem" adversely affecting the state.
But while our economy may be poor, horrific economic conditions elsewhere in the world make it attractive for some to sacrifice everything to come to California--even if it means working for subminimum wages in subhuman conditions. The availability of low-paying, hazardous, and "under the table" jobs is the magnet that draws illegal immigrants to California. Although data is scarce on California's undocumented population, a 1992 U.S. Department of Justice survey of 6,193 immigrants found that 94% of those who immigrated did so in search of a job.
Unfortunately, there are substantial incentives to hiring undocumented workers. As a result, some Californians are quick to reach out to undocumented workers to fill certain positions. These workers do not demand minimum wages, a safe workplace, worker's compensation or other basic benefits. Consequently, law-abiding employers are at a huge disadvantage when trying to compete, particularly those in hazardous or labor-intensive industries.
It's apparent that, until we reduce the availability of employment for those illegally migrating to California, we will fail in our efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigration to this state.
I introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 2404 to strike at the heart of this problem. The measure provides for civil and criminal sanctions for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. First offenses would be subject to fines. Subsequent convictions would result in the seizure of business assets and criminal penalties. The provisions for asset forfeiture would be similar to those currently used by law enforcement to combat drug trafficking, with a few important distinctions.
First, an employer's property could be forfeited only after a guilty finding in a court of law. Secondly, asset forfeiture would apply only to repeat offenders. And to target the most egregious abusers, the law would apply only to employers of five or more employees.
This measure has ignited a firestorm of discussion. Criticisms come largely from those who are unfamiliar with the protections in the bill for legitimate employers. Indeed, legitimate business owners recognize they are at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not pay lawful wages and provide safe workplaces.
Most businesses view AB 2404, quite correctly, as a way to level the "playing field," to coerce all businesses to play by the rules, and to penalize those businesses that profit by breaking the law--as well as to fund further investigations and prosecutions of bad actors.
While federal employer sanctions currently exist, experience has made it clear they are weak and lack committed resources to enforce them. As a result, there has been little impact on hiring undocumented workers.
One very valid concern that has been raised in discussions on this measure is the possibility that tougher employer sanctions will lead to increased racial discrimination in employment. Indeed, a 1990 General Accounting Office study concluded that federal employer sanctions had caused widespread discrimination against job applicants who looked or sounded foreign.
It is true the federal government's response to these statistics has been abysmal. The INS Office of Special Counsel, created to handle those cases, currently has a staff of only 17 to handle discrimination cases nationwide.
To address this disparity, AB 2404 would designate a portion of forfeited assets to public agencies to investigate and prosecute employment discrimination cases in California. In addition, a portion of the proceeds would go to counties to help defray the costs of providing social services, and to fund further enforcement of the law.
A tamper-proof identification card establishing legal residency, such as a tamper-proof Social Security card issued after verification of legal residency, also would allay an employer's fear about unwittingly hiring an undocumented worker. I am exploring the possibility of including provisions in AB 2404 for a tamper-proof identification card.
There can be no doubt that social service programs are impacted by the wave of illegal immigrants, once they are here. But to date there has been an unwillingness by government to tackle the reason illegal immigrants journey here in the first place: to work.