Outside editorial: Illegals are here for the jobs

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A court ruling Oct. 10 threw a major wrench into the Bush administration's chief mechanism for blocking the employment of illegal immigrants in this country. Despite the ruling, we still think the administration had found the right formula for workplace enforcement and should keep pressing to implement it.

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Illegal immigrants aren't coming here for the shopping or beautiful beaches. They're coming for jobs, and employers who hire them know they're getting a cheap-labor bargain. This fuels a vicious cycle that has caused America's illegal immigrant population to mushroom.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's plan aimed to sharply curtail the employability of illegal immigrants. It required employers with more than 10 workers to verify the validity of their staff's Social Security numbers. If any number was invalid or didn't match the employee's name, then he or she had to be dismissed or clear up the discrepancy within 90 days. Businesses that continued to employ people without valid Social Security numbers would face steep fines.

A San Francisco judge halted the plan indefinitely as the government prepared to notify the employers of 8 million workers with suspect Social Security numbers. The court ruled that the plan imposed too many burdens on employers and risked penalizing legitimate workers whose Social Security numbers were flagged because of, say, a clerical error. According to government estimates, about 4 percent of Social Security numbers on legitimate workers' pay stubs don't match those in the government database.

When Congress failed to approve a comprehensive immigration reform package this summer, we applauded the Chertoff plan as a good stopgap measure. A consequence of federal inaction has been the increasing involvement of local governments in immigration enforcement, including here in North Texas. That's not their job.

The Chertoff plan conveys a long-overdue message: If you're here illegally, your job opportunities are drying up. So it's time to go home.

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