Trying to Deal with Illegal Aliens

August 05, 1994

An advisory panel's recommendation that the U.S. experiment with a central Social Security registry of persons eligible to work in this country is a good one.

Eight years ago Congress tried to deal with the problem of illegal aliens by requiring employers to make sure their employees were citizens or legal resident aliens by asking them for any of several easily faked identity documents. That approach has not worked. Illegal aliens continue to flood into the country and the work force, imposing unacceptable costs on governments in several states and impacting adversely on the employment prospects of some citizens and legal aliens.

The panel's recommendation for a central registry where an employer can instantly and with confidence check a job seeker's eligibility has drawn harsh criticism from Hispanic and Asian civil rights organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union. They fear that such a system would discriminate against those ethnic groups, and that such a system would require all Americans to carry a national identity card -- something traditionally associated with continental Europe, not the U.S.

As to the last point, no such cards are contemplated in the pilot projects envisioned by the Commission on Immigration Reform. A phone call to Social Security would be all that is involved. As to the first, we would point out that not having a reliable system of verification of legal standing, which is the situation now, fosters ethnic discrimination. Many employers, who can be fined now for even innocently hiring illegals, tend to favor risk- free (white) applicants for jobs.

The chair of the commission is Barbara Jordan. As an African-American member of Congress from Texas, she was consistently a voice of liberalism and reason on civil rights and civil liberties issues. Nor is hers the first liberal voice raised in behalf of this sort of foolproof way to check worker eligibility. Over a dozen years ago similar recommendations were made by a panel that included Jimmy Carter's labor secretary, Ray Marshall, and Notre Dame's President Theodore Hesburgh, a one-time chairman of the Civil Rights Commission. Had they been listened to in 1981, the situation would not be so bad today.

Some critics say the problem of illegal hiring is wildly exaggerated. This is not so in California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York. It has become so serious a concern in those states, which are slated for pilot programs, that if something that is sensible is not done, politics is going to produce a solution that is far from sensible.

Congress and the president have the legal authority to set up and fund this sort of pilot program now. Given the overload of such legislative priorities as crime, health and other contentious matters, it is not realistic to expect action right away. But the sooner the better.

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