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AFL-CIO sues Homeland Security over no-match rule

By Julia Cheever

August 30, 2007

Four national and local labor groups sued the Department of Homeland Security in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday to challenge a new rule aimed at removing illegal immigrants from the work force.

The AFL-CIO and other groups claim the rule will result in discrimination against and possible firing of U.S. citizens and residents who are legal workers but have problems such as clerical errors with their Social Security numbers.

The suit alleges, "The new rule would place millions of U.S. citizens and non-citizens with work authorization at risk of losing their jobs because of discrepancies in Social Security Administration tax database."

The lawsuit seeks a court order halting implementation of the so-called "no match" rule, which is slated to go into effect Sept. 14.

American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman Stella Richardson said the plaintiffs hope to schedule a hearing before a federal judge in San Francisco as early as Thursday on their request for a temporary restraining order.

The Department of Homeland Security rule is one of several administrative immigration enforcement measures announced by the Bush Administration earlier this month after Congress failed to pass an immigration reform law.

It requires employers to give workers 90 days to fix problems with social security numbers that don't match information in the Social Security Administration database.

If the problem isn't resolved, employers must take further steps that could include firing the worker. Those who fail to do so can be considered to be knowingly hiring illegal workers and could face criminal prosecution or fines of $2,500 to $14,000 per worker.

In addition to the AFL-CIO, the plaintiffs include the San Francisco Labor Council, the San Francisco Construction and Building Trades Council and the Central Labor Council of Alameda County.

Defendants include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Social Security Administration.

Department of Homeland Security press secretary Russ Knocke said, "This lawsuit is an obvious attempt to impede the department's ability to enforce our immigration laws. It is completely without merit and we intend to fight it vigorously."

Knocke said, "The no-match regulation gives employers a clear way to deal with a no-match letter within a generous period of time - 90 days.

He said, "The rule assures employers that if they follow the procedures laid out, they can avoid liability. Those employers who disregard no-match letters in the future should expect serious consequences."

But AFL-CIO President John Sweeney charged, "This rule is a new tool to repress workers' rights in the name of phony immigration enforcement."

Sweeney alleged, "Employers have used SSA no-match letters to fire workers when workers try to organize, when they report a wage claim or workplace hazard, or when they get injured. The new rule gives employers a stronger pretext for engaging in such unlawful conduct."

The lawsuit says the Social Security Administration's huge database is error-prone.

It contends that while some of the unmatched numbers are fake numbers used by illegal workers, many are the result of clerical and spelling errors, name changes after marriage or divorce and different ways of presenting last names originating in Latin America and Asia.

Current law requires employers to verify the immigration status of workers when they are hired, but does not impose continuing verification obligations.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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