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Shift In US Immigration Enforcement Practices Targets Employers
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November 16, 2010, 07:43 PM
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Immigration enforcement turns to firms Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, November 15, 2010

Federal immigration officials are increasingly imposing thousands of dollars in fines on New England companies — from Fenway Park snack vendors to a Maine blueberry grower — for failing to prove that all their employees are in the United States legally.

The fines rose from just $14,534 in fiscal year 2008 to $118,000 this year in New England alone.

Those penalties are the result of a major shift last year in the Obama administration’s immigration strategy. Instead of the dramatic, large-scale raids that snagged hundreds of illegal immigrants, including at a New Bedford factory three years ago, federal officials say they are focusing more on the businesses that hire them. The aim is to eliminate the job opportunities that attract illegal workers.

I think this tendency towards increased attention on employers is better. The basic problem is the fines are simply way too low to be truly effective.

US wages are quite a bit higher than wages in all countries that are sources of immigration to the US—often 10-15 times higher. If you want an effective fine, the fine divided the probability of getting caught must equal the potential gain. Otherwise it simply becomes a price of doing business.

I think we also need to consider steps that would impact lenders and investors that systematically facilitate illegal immigration.

The Obama administration has tried to strike a balance by strengthening enforcement of immigration laws while also favoring a path to legal residency for illegal immigrants.

Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, said three pieces must be in place to solve the problem: Illegal workers should be here legally to reduce their incentive to get false documents, the government should carry out effective enforcement, and businesses should have access to the workers they need, more in expansive times, and fewer during a recession.

Otherwise, he said, the fake document industry will continue to thrive and sabotage the system.

The Obama administration is walking a tightrope between pandering the donors that put them into office-and retaining a base that has seen jobs growth in the US continue to fail to keep up with immigration-driven population growth.

There are immigration policies that work—in environments at least at challenging as the US. They involve far more serious fines than anything that is now being considered in the US—and are done in the absence of practices like birthright citizenship.