Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no other way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immigration. The Senate, through recent amendment votes, put their stamp on policies that focus on prioritizing enforcement rather than just and humane solutions to fix the broken immigration system.

Below is a quick round-up of legislative activity of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these policies will definitely have a negative impact on the South Asian community … in ways that you may not expect. Prioritizing enforcement means that hardworking undocumented immigrants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indians alone made up the 10th largest undocumented population in the U.S. in 2008) will be further relegated to the shadows out of fear of apprehension by immigration authorities. But it also means that many lawfully present immigrants may inadvertently also be caught up in the web of enforcement. Take a look for yourself; the impact may surprise you …

During debates on the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (which is basically legislation that allows the government to spend money with regard to the Department of Homeland Security), several anti-immigrant amendments passed, including:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amendment passed preventing funds from being used to rescind the much criticized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of background, letters are sent by the Social Security Administration to employers when Social Security numbers provided by employees do not match government databases. Under the rule, immigration authorities could use these letters as evidence than an employer should have known than an employee is not authorized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in theory. But, how good can it be when the databases used are know to be inaccurate and could net a range of workers, regardless of status? Or when a federal court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Department of Homeland Security itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It doesn’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E-Verify is a pilot employment verification system that certain employers use to check the work authorization of their workers. Again, this might sound good to you in theory, but one major problem with the program is that it relies upon databases with unacceptably high error rates. (Wanna know more? Check out this resource by the National Immigration Law Center for more info on what’s wrong with the program.) Instead of pausing for a moment and assessing the problems that exist within its databases, the Senate instead passed an amendment making the program permanent for all federal contractors; in addition, they mandated that all employers currently employing E-Verify to use it on ALL employees, no matter when they started. Can you imagine working for a company for over 20 years – even if you have work authorization – and your name somehow pops up as being ineligible due to database errors or name mix-ups and then you face possibly losing your job all because of this? It’s a frightening prospect.
In these difficult economic times, South Asians – like all other Americans – fear losing their jobs and have difficulty getting by. If flawed programs like the SSA No-Match Letters and E-Verify are left unchanged, South Asian workers stand to lose, regardless of immigration status. Measures that not only hurt immigrants, but also the economy, don’t make sense – call your members of Congress and urge them to support just and humane immigration reform rather than settling for obstacles towards real solutions.