Immigration enforcement outlined
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration plans to announce a broad initiative today to sharpen immigration enforcement, including measures to raise fines for employers who hire illegal workers, require federal contractors to use an employment verification system and add thousands of agents at the southern border.
Other provisions will restrict the types of documents employees can use to prove their legal status and will speed up background checks for legal immigrants. Administration officials also intend to streamline an agriculture guest-worker program.
The 25 measures – some new and some that expand on current policies – come in addition to the expected announcement of a plan to crack down on illegal immigrants by forcing employers to fire workers with discrepancies in their Social Security information.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has signaled for weeks that the administration would take independent action to deal with illegal immigration after the Senate failed to pass broad immigration reform in June.
Business groups expressed dismay at the proposals and suggested that they could hurt the economy, particularly in industries, such as agriculture and construction, that are heavily dependent on immigrant labor.
“I wish that the employer community had been consulted about some of these proposed regulations and had had more opportunity in shaping how they were rolled out and implemented,” said Laura Foote Reiff, co-chairwoman of the Business Immigration Group. “We’re still hopeful that the administration will work with us on enforcement.”
White House and Homeland Security officials would not comment Thursday.
Today’s announcement is expected to paint in broad strokes with few details, but an administration outline of the proposals indicated a multipronged effort.
The Department of Homeland Security will ask states to share drivers’ license photos and records with an electronic employment-verification system, called E-Verify, that federal contractors will be required to use. The administration will encourage states to make more use of E-Verify and will expand the system to allow access to more data sources.
The department also will add more border personnel, adopting figures suggested by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., during the immigration debate. Gregg proposed putting 20,000 agents on the border, up from about 12,000. A homeland-security funding bill passed by the Senate in July would pay for up to 23,000 border agents.
Other measures include a study to determine how to prevent immigrants from claiming Social Security credits for work done while they were in the country illegally.
The administrative provisions will boost fines for employers who hire illegally by 25 percent above current penalties, which range from $250 to $10,000 per violation.
The Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services will organize conferences for volunteers who help immigrants become citizens, and the Department of Education will develop a free Web-based program to help immigrants learn English.
Immigrant advocates said the administration had been quietly sounding them out about creative ways to bring more temporary workers into the United States.
The administration long has argued that creating a legal way for foreign workers to enter the country is essential to border security, as it would give aspiring workers a legal way in and free Border Patrol agents to concentrate on catching criminals at the border.