Amnesty, But can it work
From the 1984 issue of Time Magazine

EMPLOYER PENALTIES. The bill requires most employers to demand that job applicants produce documents indicating they are legal residents of the U.S. The aim is to dry up the flood of illegal immigrants across the 2,000-mile Mexican border by discouraging business people from hiring the aliens. In theory, however, the provision would apply to every type of job seeker: Wall Street investment firms would have to demand documentation for Caucasian M.B.A.s, just as Texas restaurants would for dark-skinned would-be dishwashers. The major exemption is for people who employ no more than three workers; families with a maid or gardener would not be troubled. But firms caught hiring undocumented workers could be fined up to $2,000 for each such employee. Under the Senate bill, repeated violations could lead to jail sentences of up to six months.

Those prospects have excited something resembling panic among many employers. A few factories in the Los Angeles area are already laying off workers they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. Some bosses fear they may be fined for hiring workers who present bogus credentials. These executives vow to be choosy about whom they employ, even at the risk of provoking antidiscrimination suits by rejected minority applicants. "Let 'em sue," says Arnold Schwedock, executive director of the New York-based Ladies Apparel Contractors Association. "Concern about penalties comes first."

These bosses are wildly misinterpreting the bill. Fines would apply not to employers who have illegal aliens on the payroll now, but to those who hire undocumented workers six months (House version) or one year (Senate) after Simpson-Mazzoli becomes law. Moreover, employers would have no obligation to verify the Social Security cards, birth certificates, driver's licenses or other credentials that applicants might present; in most cases, just asking to see two such documents would satisfy the Simpson-Mazzoli requirements.

The big question is whether the employer sanctions would do much more than spur a great expansion of trade in false documents. Already, phony driver's licenses sell in Los Angeles barrios for $40 to $50 each. "Green cards," attesting that the bearer is an alien legally permitted to work in the U.S., are forged in such quantities that they can be bought for only $12 apiece. Anyone who can get a false birth certificate and one other document, like a driver's license, can usually get a Social Security card with little trouble. In sum, critics contend, Simpson-Mazzoli's documentation requirements are beyond the ability of the INS to enforce.

One other provision of Simpson-Mazzoli, as passed by the House, has stirred so much controversy that it might kill the whole bill. It would permit farmers, mostly in California, to import migrants to pick crops that would otherwise rot for lack of field hands. Opponents charge that those "guest workers"—the total might swell to 500,000—would be cruelly exploited. Cesar Chavez, president of the 40,000-member United Farm Workers, calls the provision a "rent-a-slave" program; the AFL-CIO and Senator Simpson also denounce it. The provision will probably be modified or dropped in the House-Senate conference.

Simpson-Mazzoli's defenders think it can eventually slow, if not stop, the influx of new illegal immigrants, but concede that it will take time and increased enforcement (the bill would also beef up the budget for border patrols and the INS). The principal argument of the supporters is an unenthusiastic one: the bill represents the only kind of compromise that can pass Congress. In their view, the alternative is to do nothing and let an intolerable situation get worse.

A case can be made, however, that the situation is not really intolerable. Some illegal immigrants undoubtedly take work away from U.S. citizens, but many others accept necessary jobs—as janitors, busboys, farm laborers—that hardly anyone else wants. If their wages and living conditions seem substandard to many Americans, they are sufficiently better than those available in the aliens' homelands so that the immigrants keep coming, in numbers that even police-state controls would be hard put to stop. Indeed, to the extent that Simpson-Mazzoli succeeds in slowing the stream, it might replace one problem with another: new strains in U.S. relations with Mexico. The outflow of workers functions as a kind of safety valve for that country, providing an escape for people who cannot be usefully employed in the Mexican economy and would contribute to social and political unrest if they had to stay home.

That case has not been widely persuasive even among the U.S. Hispanic community, which is generally somewhat ambivalent about Simpson-Mazzoli despite the vehement protests of its leaders. Several recent polls of Hispanics turn up substantial support for many of the bill's provisions, including employer sanctions. Like other citizens, these respondents apparently view the tide of illegal immigration, rightly or wrongly, as a threat to both the jobs and wages available to legal residents. Also like other citizens, many of them worry about the capacity of the U.S. to absorb, economically and socially, an uncontrolled flow of aliens. Says Congressman Green: "The bill is not a cureall, but it's better than what we have now."

To read entire article, click here