Immigrant groups see rise in job bias

February 19, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of Hispanic and Asian civil rights groups accused the Clinton administration and the national media Wednesday of fueling discrimination against immigrants by their handling of the flap over undocumented nannies.

The controversy surrounding illegal aliens and President Clinton's first two choices for U.S. attorney general has created a backlash against job applicants who look or sound foreign, said leaders of groups representing Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese Americans and Puerto Ricans.

People who appear "foreign" but are legally authorized to work in the United States are being denied jobs or facing excessive questions about documents by potential employers, some of whom are themselves illegal, the rights leaders charged.

While the leaders offered little evidence to back their claims, they said that anecdotal reports and a rise in the number of job advertisements specifying "only U.S. citizens" makes a public information campaign necessary. They have requested a meeting with President Clinton, but so far have received no response.

"Nobody could have predicted that this issue would become the new mortal sin of politics," said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the -- National Council of La Raza, a coalition of Hispanic groups.

"What we can predict is the effect on our community. Whenever there is anti-immigrant hysteria, all Latinos feel the effects, even the majority of us who are not immigrants," he said.

Mr. Clinton's first two candidates for the top law enforcement officer -- corporate attorney Zoe Baird and U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood -- withdrew their names after disclosing that they had employed undocumented workers as baby sitters or household help.

The ensuing uproar over what some dubbed "Nannygate" spurred Americans to review their hiring practices and obligations under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which calls for stiff fines against people who knowingly hire illegal workers.

However, the same act, known as IRCA, prohibits job discrimination based on national origin or citizenship status. Employers who require that people prove their citizenship or summarily rule out those who are foreign-born are violating the nondiscrimination provision of the law, Justice Department lawyers say.

The Hispanic and Asian rights groups fault the Clinton administration for failing to underscore the law's protection against discrimination and fueling paranoia among employers.

The media are to blame, too, said the advocates, who cited several misleading articles in major newspapers.

In trying to help readers remain on the right side of the law, a Washington Post writer advised potential employers to demand a "green card" from job applicants, while a Chicago Tribune columnist urged employers to demand proof of U.S. citizenship.

In letters to both newspapers, a Justice Department special counsel warned that both recommendations would, in fact, break the law. Under IRCA, a job applicant is specifically allowed to show a variety of documents to confirm eligibility to work in the United States.

IRCA makes it illegal to discriminate against someone, on the basis of citizenship, who has permission to work in the United States.

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