Judge halts no-match letters

On immigrant issue, unions win again in court battle vs. Bush

By Mark Gruenberg

SAN FRANCISCO (PAI) — Unions, led by the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees, and joined by allies ranging from the ACLU to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, won another round Oct. 10 in their battle with the Bush administration over immigration. A federal judge banned Bush from using error-ridden Social Security records to round up and deport workers and prosecute companies.

San Francisco Federal District Judge Charles R. Breyer said Bush’s Department of Homeland Security cannot punish employers who refuse to act after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tells them about workers whose employment identification does not match their Social Security records.

Bush wants DHS to use Social Security’s “no-match” letters to employers to force firms to fire the workers unless they can prove, within 93 days, that they are documented. If they fail to provide such proof, DHS would conclude the companies have “constructive knowledge” that the workers are not in the country legally and prosecute the firms while it deports the workers. Breyer stopped the whole program until he can rule after a full-scale trial.

“The government’s proposal to disseminate no-match letters affecting more than 8 million workers will, under the mandated timeline, result in the termination of lawfully employed workers,” Breyer wrote. “If allowed to proceed, the mailing of no-match letters, accompanied by DHS’s guidance letter, would result in irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers.”

Unions that launched the suit hailed the ruling. AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney called Breyer’s order to halt the “no-match” program “a significant step towards overturning this unlawful rule, which would give employers an even stronger way to keep workers from freely forming unions.”

“More than 70 percent of Social Security Administration discrepancies refer to U.S. citizens,” Sweeney pointed out.

The unions showed in their court papers the no-match letters were riddled with errors — everything from misspelled names to the wrong marital status for workers.

Service Employees Vice President Eliseo Medina said, “The court’s unequivocal decision to stop the ‘no-match’ madness is a victory for all workers and all well-meaning employers. The court has seen the administration’s Social Security no-match regulations for what they are: An illegal, ill-conceived measure that would threaten thousands of innocent workers and lead to discrimination and massive workforce disruptions.

“Today’s decision sends a clear message that punitive crackdowns that attempt to sidestep the law will not be tolerated,” Medina added.

The ACLU explained that until the Bush regime’s recent actions, in response to pressure from its own constituents, the no-match letters “were never considered reason to believe” a worker was here illegally. As a result, employers did not have to act. Bush schemed to change that.

“The judge saw the need to fully examine the wisdom of placing employees’ jobs in jeopardy because of the mess in our Social Security database, which is rife with errors,” said lead attorney Scott Kronland. Bush “showed a callous disregard for legal workers and citizens by adopting a rule that punishes innocent workers and employers under the guise of so-called ‘immigration enforcement.’”

Rather than punishing citizens and legal workers, the Bush government “should dedicate itself to enforcing the workplace wage and safety rights of all workers,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and another lawyer in the case. The Bush administration had no immediate comment.