WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers, backed by an unusual coalition of business and civil rights organizations, began pushing legislation yesterday to repeal 5-year-old sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens.
The measure to repeal the provisions of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration law was introduced in the Senate by Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and in the House by Edward R. Roybal, D-Calif., and Bill Richardson, D-N.M.
The sponsors of the legislation charged that threats of fines and jail terms against employers has led to widespread discrimination against Latinos and Asian-Americans.
They also claimed that the sanctions -- which were at the core of the 1986 statute -- have imposed a heavy burden on businesses.
As an alternative, the senators and congressmen proposed spending more than $90 million a year to strengthen border patrols and prosecute discrimination cases.
"This bill will safeguard American citizens and legal workers who happen to look foreign or speak with an accent, whose civil rights have been systematically violated by the current employer sanctions," Mr. Roybal said.
Mr. Hatch asserted that "undocumented aliens continue to pour into this country" despite the 1986 law. He said that "some employers have engaged in illegal discrimination" and have been saddled with "paperwork and related burdens."
Mr. Hatch and Mr. Kennedy appeared at a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and leaders of Latino and other civil rights organizations.
Business groups also strongly support the repeal, U.S. Chamber of Commerce official Damon Tobias said in an interview.
But the bill, similar to one that went nowhere last year, quickly met stiff resistance from Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., co-author with Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli of the 1986 legislation that transformed the nation's immigration laws. "If this [repeal] bill passes," he said, "a very clear message will go out to the world: 'Well, the U.S. no longer is serious at all about controlling its borders. Come on in, the more the merrier. You can go to work and be pretty well exploited because there is no way to penalize employers.' "
Proponents of repeal cited a 1990 report by Congress' General Accounting Office, which found that "many employers discriminated because the law's verification system does not provide a simple or reliable method to verify job applicants' eligibility to work."