Policy sting

August 08, 2005

FEDERAL STING operations targeting undocumented immigrant workers are being increasingly employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Though they do result in arrests of illegal immigrants, the operations raise a troubling question: Is it fair for the government to go after illegal employees more aggressively than it does the employers who knowingly hire them and profit from their cheap labor?

Federal officials say it is, especially when the workers are hired by outside contractors and employed at military bases, nuclear power plants, chemical refineries and other potential terrorist targets. Hiring at these "critical infrastructures" has become a priority of immigration enforcement efforts since the 9/11 attacks. While the security concerns are valid, a better solution is either to stop all employers, especially the larger number of employers in the private sector, from hiring undocumented workers in the first place -- an unrealistic and time-consuming proposition -- or to reform immigration laws so that needed laborers can work here through an organized immigrant worker program under the government's control.

A 1986 law prohibits employers from hiring undocumented workers, yet relatively few businesses that do -- with the exception of meat and poultry processors whose large-scale hiring of illegal workers was too egregious to ignore -- have been sanctioned, and even those few exceptions have prompted complaints from employers and congressional lawmakers from affected states who argued the sanctions hurt industries that also employ Americans and sustain local economies.

This hypocrisy in immigration policy has allowed the number of undocumented immigrants in this country to grow to almost 11 million, 7 million of them in the labor force, while the federal government uses manpower and intelligence resources on cloak-and-dagger ruses to catch janitors, carpenters and other mostly low-level laborers.

Sting operations targeting workers will never be as effective as those that target employers, and immigration policies that formally regulate the flow of labor based on labor market needs will always make for more secure borders.

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