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June 28, 2006

Senate immigration bill to lift ceilings on foreign nurses

I like to follow the issue of nursing immigration because it shows how U.S. immigration policy deals with a specific, large, and well defined class of professional workers. The Senate immigration reform bill removes caps for nurses for seven years.

According to the NY Times, foreign nurses have to pass U.S. nursing tests to qualify for visas. The articles goes on to say:

Last year, American nursing schools rejected almost 150,000 applications from qualified people, according to the National League for Nursing, a nonprofit group that counts more than 1,100 nursing schools among its members. One of the most important factors limiting the number of students was a lack of faculty to teach them, nursing organizations say. Professors of nursing earn less than practicing nurses, damping demand for teaching positions. Under the current immigration system, experts estimate that 12,000 to 14,000 nurses have immigrated to the United States annually on employment visas.
The primary sources for American employers will be the Philippines, India and China. Typically, nurses who enter the U.S. under the special J category for nurses obtain a green card for permanent residency and can bring their immediate family.
A nurse in the Philippines would earn a starting salary of less than $2,000 a year and at least $36,000 in the United States, said Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, a medical professor at the University of the Philippines who led the country's National Institutes of Health.
Britain is reportedly making financial compensation to Malawi to recognize that country’s loss of nurses to migrate to the U.K. If any nation has demanded such compensation or financial aid from the U.S., it has not been reported.

June 27, 2006

Wage and benefits by job category, U.S.

WorkersCompInsider has summarized hourly wage and benefits compensation and provided this link to a federal pfd document listing this information for over a hundred job catregories. The data are for March 2006.

June 26, 2006

Phased immigration reform?

Phased immigration reform?

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post

June 25, 2006

Three suits over subcontracted janitor labor violations

The Boston Globe reports a suit dealing janitors and kitchen staff working for a leading Boston-area healthcare organization, Cambridge Health Alliance, while technically employed by an outsourcing company, Clean Link. Last year two major settlements over janitorial services were made, one involving Walmart.

The blog Contingent Law summarizes this $22 million settlement and a Walmart settlement as follows:

Wal-Mart Agrees to $11 Million Settlement in Illegal Foreign Janitors' Class Action Lawsuit Holding Wal-Mart Liable for Its Contract Janitorial Firms' Violations of Federal Immigration and Labor Laws. (Zavala et.al. v. Walmart Stores, Inc. , U.S. D.Ct. D. N.J.) settled March 18, 2005). The illegal immigrant janitors were employed by Wal-Mart's contract janitorial services companies. Wal-Mart was liable as a joint employer with 12 contract janitorial services firms. The janitorial firms were charged with criminal violations and were fined $4 million.

$22 Million Settlement for 2,000 Illegal Immigrant Contract Janitors in Federal Class Action Lawsuit Charging National Supermarkets and their Subcontractor Cleaning Companies with FLSA Violations. (Florex v. Albertson's. et. al. , U.S. D.Ct., C.D., Cal. Jan 26, 2005)

The Globe article goes on:

Cambridge Health Alliance , a public health network praised for its business and workplace practices, is named in a lawsuit alleging that Brazilian workers placed at its worksites by a Brockton firm were paid less than minimum wage, denied overtime, and were subjected to illegal deductions.

Filed in Middlesex Superior Court against the contractor last year, the suit was amended last week to include the Cambridge Health Alliance as a co-defendant. It alleges that workers placed by Clean Link Inc. earned $7 per hour as janitors or kitchen staff, but the firm routinely deducted money from paychecks with no explanation or reimbursement. The suit also alleges that the firm did not pay overtime when employees worked weekends or stayed late week days as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Cambridge Health Alliance did not hire the Brazilian immigrants, but the lawsuit claims the workers took day-to-day direction from alliance employees, noting that if workers time off they cleared the request with Cambridge Health Alliance, not Clean Link.

``We are going to move to dismiss this complaint because these employees are not employees of the Cambridge Health Alliance ," said attorney Thomas Royall Smith of Jackson Lewis LLP in Boston. ``They were employees of Clean Link." The workers' lawyers are seeking class action status for janitors and kitchen staff who were placed at Cambridge Health Alliance by Clean Link between 1996 and 2005.

Defined in a 1964 US Supreme Court decision involving a bus company that contracted with a cleaning service, joint employer means that ``one employer, while contracting in good faith with an otherwise independent company, retains sufficient control of the terms and conditions of employment of the workers hired by the other employer," according to the high court decision.

Boston lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan , whose firm represents the Clean Link workers, argues that some employers shirk responsibility for wage violations and mistreatment of employees on their sites by claiming that they are not the employer.

June 24, 2006

Massachusetts Governor wants state police to round up illegal immigrants

Governor Mitt Romney is intent on using state police to round up illegal immigrants. This initiative as the state’s Attorney General scuffed at the idea of deploying state law enforcement resources to capture illegals. But since the AG’s remarks, the Boston Globe ran a story that many undocumented workers are engaged on state – financed construction projects.

Last year, Romney’s Lt Governor opposed a law to give illegal immigrant children in-state tuition at state colleges, saying, Marie Antoinette-fashion, that they should apply to private schools.

Per the Boston Globe

Governor Mitt Romney is seeking an agreement with federal authorities that would allow Massachusetts state troopers to arrest undocumented immigrants for being in the country illegally. Under the agreement Romney is seeking, troopers would have greatly expanded powers: They could check an immigrant's legal status during routine patrols such as during a traffic stop and decide whether the immigrant should be held. Federal immigration authorities would provide the troopers with 4 1/2 weeks of training in immigration laws and procedures, civil rights, and avoiding racial profiling.

If the proposal is approved, Massachusetts would join a handful of states and localities that have entered into such pacts since they were first authorized in 1996. That list includes Florida, Alabama, and a few counties in California and North Carolina, where a limited number of officers have been trained to enforce immigration laws.

Police across the state have put great energy into convincing immigrants that they should report crimes without fear of drawing scrutiny from immigration authorities, said [an ACLU spokesperson] and others, and empowering state troopers to enforce immigration law against undocumented immigrants who have broken no state laws would undermine that trust. Domestic violence advocates said they also feared that the agreement would make immigrant victims afraid to report those crimes.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security, has received many calls from states and counties seeking information on the agreements and is working with a dozen government entities to craft memoranda of understandings tailored to their needs, said Mike Gilhooly, communications director for the department's New England division.

Most of those already in place are narrow in scope: in Florida, 63 officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who are already focused on domestic security, have the authority to act when they encounter undocumented immigrants. In Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties in California, Mecklenberg County in North Carolina, and in Arizona, jail officers have been trained to locate undocumented immigrants among those being held and to begin deportation proceedings with federal authorities.

Alabama's agreement, which is similar to what Romney is seeking, authorizes 44 state troopers to enforce immigration law.

Second report on breakdown of worker safety in Katrina cleanup

Two study teams have told me that workers compensation coverage has pretty much disappeared for the estimated 5,000 undocumented workers engaged in the Katrina cleanup. I have already posted about the study conducted by Tulane University and UC Berkeley. I spoke with Phuong Pham, a professor at Tulane and one of the leaders of that team. She told me she was not aware of any injuries being treated within the workers comp system. The second study was supported by the
NDLON - the National Day Labor Organizing Network -- and UCLA, and the main researcher was Tomas Aguilar. He told me the same thing.

June 21, 2006

Serious breakdown in workers comp for Katrina cleanup

I have been talking with the authors of two studies of immigrant workers engaged in the Katrina cleanup. There are an estimated 10,000 immigrant workers of whom half may be undocumented. Both researchers report that very, very few of their work injuries are handled through the workers comp system. Instead, free care is used. This is a very serious problem. I expect to write more on it as more information becomes available. I have already posted on the published study done by Tulane and UC Berkeley researchers.

June 20, 2006

Republican Senator: REAL ID is a real stinker

Senator John Sununu represents NH, one of the states intending to be an early implementor of the REAL ID program -- creating a national standard of high tech driver's licenses. He roundly criticized the program in a recent column in the 5/17 Manchester Union Leader (no link available). "The flaws of REAL ID are fundamental and are slowly being realized by observers across the country." Here it is, somewhat excerpted. I have posted on it in the past.

WHEN THE 9/11 Commission released its report nearly two years ago, the commissioners made several recommendations which they believed would, if implemented, make us safer. One such recommendation stated, "The federal government should set standards for the issuance of . . . sources of identification, such as drivers' licenses."

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act, which was signed into law in December of 2004, addressed the issue of identification security by creating a collaborative process for developing minimum standards for drivers' licenses, such as name, address, photo and signature. This approach, which included governors, state legislators and motor vehicle administrators, was supported by members of both parties in Congress, endorsed by the White House, and satisfied the commission's recommendations regarding identification documents. Most important, the legislation was mindful of states' rights and avoided the creation of a national ID, massive databases and billions of dollars in unfunded federal mandates.

Unfortunately, in March of 2005, REAL ID Act supporters in the U.S. House of Representatives, having failed to include it in the Intelligence Reform Act three months earlier, attached their measure to an emergency spending bill to fund tsunami relief efforts and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, passage of the REAL ID Act eliminated a cooperative and common sense approach for improving drivers' license security signed into law just five months earlier.

The flaws of REAL ID are fundamental and are slowly being realized by observers across the country. First, the law ignores a basic state right to determine standards and eligibility for issuing a driver's license. For the first time, federal mandates have been established for categories of eligible drivers, temporary licenses, information to be displayed on a license, and data collection by motor vehicle officials. Once again, the arrogance that pervades Washington has led to the preposterous conclusion that states are incapable of upgrading and implementing new standards themselves.

Second, the bill creates a de facto national ID and raises serious privacy concerns by requiring all states to have similar license features, and to be connected to a national database which will contain personal information on all drivers, including name, address, Social Security number and photo. This system also carries the potential unintended consequence of establishing a "gold standard" for fraudulent activity. A fraudulently obtained "national license" could open doors for terrorists in situations that previously might have required supporting or secondary documentation or identification.

Third, this system will impose billions of dollars in new costs on states. Consider just a few of the requirements states must address by May of 2008: departments of motor vehicles must capture an electronic image of any "source" document utilized, such as a birth certificate; maintain images for 10 years; retain paper copies for seven years; subject each license applicant to a mandatory facial image capture; reconfirm all information pertaining to a license renewal; confirm all Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration; and refuse a license or identification card to a person holding a driver's license issued by another state without confirmation that the person is terminating, or has terminated, the driver's license.

And people think it takes a long time to get a license now?

Simply put, the REAL ID Act replaced sound policy with bad policy. It has been denounced by the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and organizations on the left and right of the political spectrum. In the coming months, I will work to minimize the potential cost of these mandates, insist on state participation in reviewing new federal requirements, and safeguard personal records and civil liberties as national databases are inevitably created. I only wish that others had spoken more forcefully when a few of us in Congress tried to fight the emotional rhetoric and prevent an unnecessary bill from becoming law.

Jim Platner's analysis of higher construction deaths among Hispanics

I have found on the net a powerpoint presentation of Platner's important analysis of higher hispanic construction fatalities.

It was originally published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and must be purchased.

An analysis of post construction fatality data extending through 2003 can be found here.

Locations of worker centers in U.S.

Janice Fine's Worker Centers: Organizing communities at the Edge of the Dream includes contact information for 137 worker centers, 122 of which are expressly focused on serving immigrant workers. their distribution by state. A online map of the country with these centers can be found here.

AZ - 3
AR - 1
CA - 29
CO - 1
DC - 1
FL - 6
IL - 8
IN - 2
ME - 1
MA - 5
MI - 1
MN - 3
MS -2
MT - 1
NE - 1
NJ - 5
NV - 1
NY - 24
NC - 7
OH - 3
OR - 4
PA - 3
RI - 1
SC - 1
TX - 6
UT - 1
VT - 1
VA - 4
WA - 5
WI - 4

June 18, 2006

Fake IDs among Massachusetts construction workers

The Boston Globe ran a story on Sunday (no link available) about the ways in which undocumented workers become workers at construction worksites. Article by By Jonathan Saltzman and Yvonne Abraham, June 18, 2006:

A Globe analysis of nine recent public works projects -- from dormitory construction at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth to the building of the new Middlesex County Jail -- revealed that of 242 workers on weekly payroll lists, more than a third appeared to lack legitimate Social Security numbers. On one of the payrolls reviewed, for masonry work on the UMass dormitory project, nearly two-thirds of the contractor's 87 workers had bogus or questionable Social Security numbers.

The numbers used by the workers in many cases appeared obviously fraudulent. One laborer who helped build the new jail in Billerica submitted a number that should have immediately raised eyebrows: 666-66-6666. Some numbers belonged to people who were long-deceased, the Globe found. Others were matched to people who live out of state and had no idea their numbers had been appropriated.

The findings, though a small snapshot of the vast number of public projects undertaken throughout the state, suggest how the use of undocumented workers has extended into almost every corner of the economy. Republicans in Massachusetts trumpeted plans last month to stiffen fines on companies that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, which is illegal under state law. But there is no requirement that employers, including those receiving public funds, demonstrate that their workers are legal, and undocumented workers employed on the projects say that contractors are all too happy to look the other way.

Obtaining an authentic-looking Social Security card with a made-up or stolen number is easy, according to undocumented workers, who said they purchased them outside T stations or from friends. In the age of laser printers and graphics software, fake cards can be had for as little as $80.

The Globe obtained weekly payroll reports filed with state and local authorities on the nine public projects examined. Reporters and a Globe researcher ran the workers' Social Security numbers through three on line personal information databases that compile valid Social Security numbers. Many yielded no matches in those databases, or they matched other people , including deceased ones . In other instances, the names of the workers came up, but so did the names of other people, making those numbers questionable.

In interviews with state, local, and county government officials and managers of companies that received contracts, a clear pattern emerged: none of them considered it their responsibility to verify that workers on the public projects were here legally.

The state and municipal officials said they take no steps to check on the workers' status, saying that duty lies with the contractors. Contractors, in turn, said they obey federal laws that call for them to ask for employees' documentation, but do not require them to inquire further.

Under federal law, employers must complete a so-called I-9 document after hiring an employee. The employer must examine sets of documents that establish the employee's identity and eligibility to work in the country. Some identification cards are sufficient to ful fill both requirements, such as a green card or a certificate of US citizenship. Other times, employees rely on a state or locally issued photo ID card, such as a driver's license, to establish their identity, and a Social Security card for their work eligibility.

Federal immigration guidelines only require that the documents ``appear to be genuine" and stress to employers that they are not expected to be ``document experts." Raymond W. Houle Jr. town administrator in the small town of Blackstone on the Rhode Island border, said he was ``quite surprised" to learn payroll records show that six of the eight workers for M K Painting of Michigan, which painted a million-gallon steel water storage tank in his town, had bogus or questionable Social Security numbers. But he said he expected the contractor would have checked.

John Bethell, superintendent of M K Painting, said he was unaware his company had hired workers who lacked valid Social Security numbers. ``We ask them for their documents, and they give us their documents," said Bethell, whose company brought workers to Blackstone from Texas and the Midwest. ``We're not private eyes."

Romeo D'Agostino, an owner of D'Agostino Associates Inc. of Newton, which had 19 instances of workers with bogus or questionable Social Security numbers on public school projects in Littleton and North Easton, said he received about a dozen letters from the Social Security Administration last year informing him that the agency found various workers' numbers did not match any of their records. Occasionally, when a worker's Social Security number does not match the name on tax documents, the SSA sends out such letters asking the worker to resolve the discrepancy. D'Agostino said the law requires him only to pass the letters on to the employees, which he did. Some of those workers still are employed by him, he said.

Specialists on both sides of the immigration debate agree the federal government has done a dismal job of enforcing immigration laws, and that that is why so many undocumented workers -- and the companies that employ them -- thrive. The workers are attractive to some construction firms because they will typically work for lower wages and are less likely to complain to authorities about labor violations.

In interviews, two undocumented immigrants who worked on public construction projects said it was easy to obtain the Social Security numbers and get on the contractors' payroll. An immigrant from Brazil who said he worked from 2001 to 2005 for D'Agostino and then Lighthouse Masonry said that he bought his bogus Social Security card from a friend of a friend for $80. The 24-year-old, who overstayed his visa after it expired in 2001, said his friend encouraged him to make up a 9-digit number for the card, so he used part of his mother's phone number in Brazil.

George Will on short vs long term politics on immigration

Washington Post columnist George Will writes today about the Republicans' temptation to attack Democrats for the Senate bill on immigration reform, calling it an amnesty sell-out. This attack we may see more of despite the fact that 33 Republican senators voted for the bill. Will notes that short term goals may yield long term losses:

Republicans very much want to pass an immigration bill as proof their party can govern. For that reason, there is no reason to expect Senate Democrats to compromise by passing something like the House bill. Nothing very different from it has any chance of being accepted by the House. So, safely assuming that the House-Senate conference fails to produce a compromise acceptable to both houses, when Congress returns to Washington after the Labor Day recess, the House may again pass essentially what it passed in December, just to enable Republicans to campaign on the basis of a clear and recent stance against exactly what Santorum's ad stands against.

The cost of this, paid in the coin of lost support among Latinos, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority, may be reckoned later, for years. Remember this: Out West, feelings of all sorts about immigration policy are particularly intense, and if John Kerry had won a total of 127,014 more votes in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado, states with burgeoning Latino populations, he would have carried those states and won the election. But for now, the minds of Republican candidates are concentrated on a shorter time horizon -- the next 4 1/2 months.

June 16, 2006

Overseas Indians send back $21 billion.

Investment bank J.P.Morgan reported that about 20 million overseas Indian workers -- NRIs, or non-resident Indians -- remit $21 billion annually back to India, a sharp rise from the 1990s. These remittances are equivalent to double the size of foreign institutional investment inflows and about quarter the size of product export earnings for India.

I have previously posted on remittances to Latin America, estimated at $54 billion.

Awareness of workers comp, safety regulation is troublingly low among immigrant workers

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health asked people at community health centers about workers compensation and OSHA. They drew from a sample of 1,428 persons who had worked within the past year. Average age was 34.8; 66% were born outside the United States. Their employment fairly represents the distribution of immigrant work in Massachusetts.

Findings, as reported by Letitia Davis, of the Occupational Health Surveillance Program, who ran the survey, were:

Nearly 39% of CHC patients reported that they had never heard of workers' compensation. Awareness of workers' compensation varied by self-reported race, ethnicity, and place of birth...... Hispanic and Black workers had the lowest reported awareness of workers' compensation - over 48% of both groups reported never having heard of workers' compensation before the date of their interview. White workers were the least likely to report (21.1%) that they had never heard of workers' compensation.

Cross-tabulated by place of birth, workers born in countries other than the United States or Puerto Rico included the highest percentage of persons (51.8%) reporting that they had never heard of workers’ compensation, followed by respondents born in Puerto Rico (41.6%) and the mainland United States (15.3%).....Awareness also varied by occupational category: lack of awareness of the workers' compensation system was highest among operators, fabricators and laborers (47%). Managerial and professional specialty workers were least likely (17.0%) to report that they had never heard of workers' compensation.

The overall percentage of respondents reporting no awareness of OSHA was 62.7%. Awareness varied somewhat by race; over 70% of those reporting their race as Hispanic/Latino had never heard of OSHA. White workers, however, were most likely to report awareness of OSHA (37.7%).

Contact info for Dr. Davis: Letitia.Davis@state.ma.us, (617) 624-5626.

June 15, 2006

Poll: Senate's immigration bill more popular than House's

A Wall Street Journal poll taken 6/6 reports that 50% of respondents preferred the Senate bill, while 33% preferred the House bill. Answering the question "does immigration help more than it hurts?", 44% said yes vs. 37% who said yes on 12/5/05. Negatives were 45% and 53% respectively.

June 14, 2006

Illegal immigrant workers face serious risks in Katrina cleanup

A new study by researchers at Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley reveals that undocumented workers are being abused even as they provide critical help to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the most costly natural disaster in American history. This according to the press office of Tulane University. It goes on:

The comprehensive study of more than 200 workers surveyed in March 2006 by researchers at the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer at Tulane University and the International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley discovered vulnerability of undocumented workers, including severely reduced access to health care, wage discrepancy and unsafe working conditions.

The study found that almost half of the reconstruction workforce in New Orleans is Latino, and 54 percent of that group is undocumented, meaning 25 percent of all workers are undocumented Latinos. In the aftermath of the storm, the federal government allowed special waivers of immigration laws, which made it easier for employers to hire undocumented workers. Two-thirds of Latino construction workers have moved to the area since Katrina hit in 2005. But 87 percent of the undocumented workers were already living in the United States before they moved to New Orleans. This means that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not cause an influx of illegal immigrants across the US border as many have reported.

The study, Rebuilding After Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans, finds:

On average, documented workers received significantly higher wages than undocumented workers peforming the same work ($16.50 per hour average for documented vs. $10 per hour for undocumented.).

Construction workers frequently report experiencing problems receiving wages owed, especially undocumented workers.

Further findings:

Workers reported working with harmful substances (29 percent) and in dangerous conditions (27 percent) while 19 percent said they were not given any protective equipment for dangerous work.

Only 9 percent of undocumented workers have health insurance compared to 55 percent of documented workers. 83 percent of documented workers said they received medications when needed compared to 38 percent of undocumented workers.

The study used random sampling to interview 212 workers of all origins in different sites in New Orleans. In addition to the random sampling, the study included key informant interviews and a targeted sampling of 148 Latino workers. All interviews, including the survey interviews, were anonymous. During March 2006, researchers interviewed 25 key informants including legal advocates, social service providers, community activists, health care providers, business leaders, policymakers, representatives of minority and immigrant groups, and representatives of federal, state, and local government agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi. Other important findings include:

- Protective equipment generally is available but insufficient, especially for undocumented workers. The random survey data indicates undocumented workers possess equipment less frequently (72 percent) than documented workers (84 percent).

- Post-disaster clean-up and construction work often exposes laborers to health risks due to working in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. However, awareness among undocumented workers of risk related to mold (38 percent), asbestos (36 percent) and unsafe buildings (19 percent) is significantly lower than among documented workers, respectively 67 percent (mold), 65 percent (asbestos) and 59 percent (unsafe buildings).

Among the construction workers who report health problems, a little more than one- quarter (27 percent) sought medical treatment. The disparity between documented and undocumented workers is striking: 33 percent of documented workers sought treatment for a medical problem while only 10 percent of undocumented reported seeking such treatment.

June 13, 2006

Homeland Security's SAVE program to verify employment

The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program Is Homeland Security’s online system of alien status determination. It is being promoted now as the “Basic Pilot.” It is voluntary. The media reports a 1.4% error rate, which I infer is the percentage of times when a person is reported not a “qualified alien” when in fact she or is he or even may be a citizen. However, the quality problems are far worse than that figure implies.

The Washington Post reported in May: that only 6,000 employers were enrolled, out of 8 million. A Government Accountability Office report issued in August criticized it for its inability to catch identity fraud, for flaws in the databases and for the possibility that employers will abuse the system. Nearly one in three noncitizens the electronic system cannot initially verify are later cleared based on a manual search of the records, according to government statistics. This 33% "false positive" rate is extremely high -- in my experience, such a high rate dooms the program because it is a rare employer who would want to accept a false positive rate of more than 10%.

The GAO says that the search does not include, for statutory constraint issues, the 250 million entry Earnings Suspense File of deductions sent in without a valid SSN.

Per DHS, the Basic Pilot involves verification checks of the SSA and DHS databases, using an automated system to verify the employment authorization of all newly hired employees. Participation in the Basic Pilot Program is voluntary, and is free to participating employers.

The Basic Pilot program has been available to all employers in the States of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas since November 1997 and to employers in Nebraska since March 1999. The Basic Pilot Program began operation in November 1997; was terminated in late 2001; and was reactivated in 2003. It is being expanded to all states.

Below is a description of how the program works, and the FAQ page from Homeland Security.

How it works (much per an HR website):

The employer first registers and signs a memorandum of understanding (go to: https://www.vis-dhs.com/EmployerRegistration). For an individual application of the system the employee (not job applicant!) fills out an I-9 form within three business days of hire. This form gives the employee's name, date of birth, social security number, and an attestation that the employee is a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or alien authorized to work in the U.S. The employee presents to the employer either one document establishing both identity and work authorization (e.g., a U.S. passport or green card) or two documents that together establish identity and work authorization (e.g., a driver's license and a social security card). The employer signs an attestation on the I-9 saying that he has examined the documents and they appear valid.

The employer logs onto a secure DHS website, enters the employee's full name, date of birth and social security number. He chooses from a drop-down box which document/combination of documents the employee presented, and then clicks the submit button. The information about the employee is transmitted immediately to the SSA (Social Security Administration).

If the SSN (social security number) and the name match SSA records, the employer receives a message within two or three seconds that the employee is authorized to work and the process is finished.

If the SSN and name match, but the SSA cannot verify that the employee is work authorized (i.e., the SSN may have been issued "not for employment purposes") the employer gets a message that DHS is attempting to verify work authorization. DHS usually responds within 24 hours, but the law gives it three days, since it has to check its records by hand if the automated check does not match the name and immigration document. If DHS finds a match, it tells the employer and the process is finished. Otherwise, the employer is told to have the employee check with DHS directly to clear up the problem.

To Hire or Not to Hire - If the SSN and name do not match, the employer receives a message to refer the employee to SSA to clear up the problem.
In either case where the employee is referred to SSA/DHS, the employer will be notified within 10 days that either work authorization is confirmed or not confirmed, in which case the employer must terminate the employee.. Questions? Call 202-272-8720.


Q: What is the SAVE Program?

Answer: The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program is an intergovernmental, information-sharing initiative designed to aid Federal, state and local benefit-issuing agencies and licensing bureaus in verifying a non-citizen applicant's immigration status, thereby ensuring that only eligible non-citizens receive public benefits and licenses.

Q: What is the cost of the SAVE program to the user?

Answer: The cost of access to the Verification Information System (VIS) Customer Processing System (CPS) varies by access method. There are currently five access methods available: Web-Based (Web-1, Web-2, Web-3); Computer Matching (SFTP Priority Batch); and Web Services. The transaction cost varies from $.20 to $.26 per query for an Initial Verification and from $.24 to $.48 for an Additional Verification.

Q: What is the system’s response time?

Answer: For agencies using VIS-CPS, the response time for an Initial Verification is 3-5 seconds, and for an Additional Verification request, in most cases, is within 3-5 Federal government workdays.

For agencies using the manual verification method (Form G-845), the response time for mandated agencies is within 10 Federal government workdays from receipt by an Immigration Status Verification Unit and is negotiable with all other user agencies, usually within 20 working days..

Q: What are the procedures to sign a new agency into the program?

Answer: To join the SAVE Program and acquire access to VIS-CPS to perform immigration status verification, an agency must first establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the SAVE Program, and then establish a purchase order with the SAVE Program to pay for VIS-CPS transaction fees. To request participation in SAVE and to begin the MOU process, please access the following website to register:


For additional information regarding the SAVE Program, please call (202) 272-8720, or write to:

Phyllis A. Lancaster
Director, SAVE Program
Douglas Development Building, 2nd Floor
20 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20529

Q: What safeguards exist in the SAVE system to prevent benefit granting agencies and licensing bureaus from erroneously denying a benefit?

Answer: Under the SAVE program, a non-citizen is never denied a benefit or license based solely upon the response from an Initial Verification. An Additional Verification (automated or manual) procedure is in place as a precautionary measure.

Q: Does the SAVE Program provide information to Federal, state, and local benefit-issuing agencies and licensing bureaus to assist them in understanding the SAVE Program's role in the immigration status verification process?

Answer: Yes. The SAVE Program provides participating benefit issuing agencies and licensing bureaus with user manuals, and conducts periodic user meetings to discuss the SAVE Program's role and address the Users' concerns. In addition, SAVE Program staff is available to answer questions either in writing or by telephone..

Q: Is the VIS-CPS database capable of providing the information that states and agencies will need?

Answer: The current SAVE Program can electronically verify the status of most lawful permanent residents as well as aliens in many other categories. For certain groups of non-citizens or when status cannot be verified immediately through an Initial Verification, the Additional Verification procedure (manual or automated) should be instituted. This additional verification ensures that all available DHS records systems can be checked and that benefits or licenses are not denied to eligible persons.

Q: For what programs do benefit providers have to verify an applicant’s immigration status?

Answer: Verification is mandatory for Federal public benefit programs. State and local agencies may choose to verify immigration status for applicants for state and local public benefit programs.

Q: What can states do to verify status before a final regulation is issued on the new verification system?

Answer: The law does not address this issue; states can decide whether to rely on self certification, document review, or contacting the SAVE Program to explore the possibility of signing up with the SAVE Program which administers the current status verification system. States can also refer to the Interim Guidance on Verification published in the Federal Register on November 17, 1997.

Q: Can the SAVE Program verify sponsorship information?

Answer: Yes, the SAVE Program can supply state agencies with information that sponsors provided on the original Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, when requested through the VIS-CPS or by submitting the Document Verification Request, Form G-845S, along with the Document Verification Request Supplement, Form G-845 Supplement, to their local USCIS office.


Q. How do I join the Basic Pilot Program?

Answer: Employers interested in joining the Basic Pilot Program must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program. On July 7, 2004, the SAVE Program began offering a Web-Based Access Method for the Basic Pilot. To register and complete a MOU for participation in the Basic Pilot go to https://www.vis-dhs.com/EmployerRegistration, and follow the instructions.

Q. How much does it cost to participate in the Basic Pilot Program?

Answer: There is no charge to the employer. The government provides the verification services at no cost to employers.

Q. What equipment is needed to participate in the Basic Pilot?

Answer: You will need a personal computer with access to the Internet.

Q. What are the advantages for employers to volunteer to participate in the Basic Pilot Program?

Answer: The Basic Pilot removes the guesswork from document review during the Form I-9 process; it allows the employer to confirm the employment eligibility of all newly hired employees; it improves the accuracy of wage and tax reporting; and it protects jobs for authorized workers.

Q. Can I verify the work eligibility of all employees in my company?

Answer: No, you may only verify the employment eligibility of employees hired after you signed the MOU.

Q. When would I perform a verification query?

Answer: You would perform the automated employment verification query after an employee has been hired, and the Form I-9 process complete. This automated query must be initiated within 3 business days of hire. It is important to remember that the system may not be used to pre-screen an applicant for employment.

Q. Does participation in a pilot program eliminate the requirement of completing a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification Form?

Answer: No, Form I-9 requirements remain the same with the exception that all "List B" identity documents must contain a photograph.

Q. Can I use the system to re-verify the employment eligibility of an employee whose employment eligibility document has expired?

Answer: No, the system should not be used to re-verify employment eligibility. You would follow the procedures currently in place by completing Section 3 of the Form I-9.

Q. Have steps been taken to safeguard individual privacy in connection with the pilot programs?

Answer: Yes. The pilots are designed with safeguards to ensure that employer and employee information is protected.

Q. If I join the program, am I obligated to participate in the pilot until it ends?

Answer: No, if you join the program and decide that the pilot is not what you wanted or expected, you may drop out of the pilot. You would do this by sending written notice to the SAVE Program that you no longer want to participate in the pilot and give a brief explanation as to why.

For More Information

Contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program

June 11, 2006

How the Senate bill increases worker immigration

What you see below is taken from an anti-immigration website, which quotes from Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. You will see a brief description of the actual provisions in the Senate bill 2611 which passed the Senate, then you will see Session’s extrapolation to forecast total household related immigration in the next 20 years. I do not understand how Sessions came to some extremely high estimates.

Guest worker program: He estimates that the initial guest work program cap of 325,000 plus the amnestied numbers already in the U.S. could result in over 60 million people coming into the U.S. in the next 20 years. The only way on can get these figures is to assume that the guest workers stay beyond expiration and new ones continue to come in. It is impossible to square this with the realities of the American and Latin American economies.

Green care issuance: Sessions says that the bill increases green card issuance from 140,000 to 450,000 a year, and increases household member and relative green cards by several hundred thousand. Another source estimates that the green card cap will by 650,000.


H-2C Workers: By creating a new (H-2C) visa category for "temporary guest workers" (low skilled workers) with an annual "cap" of 325,000 that increases up to 20 percent each year the cap is met, the bill allows at least 6.5 million, and up to 60.7 million new guest workers to come to the United States over the next 20 years. There is nothing "temporary" about these workers. Employers may file a green card application on their behalf as soon as they arrive in the United States, or the worker may self-petition for a green card after four years of work.

H-4 Family Members of H-2C Workers: By creating a new visa category (H-4) for the immediate family members of the future low-skilled workers (H-2C), and allowing them to also receive green cards, the bill would allow at least 7.8 million, and up to 72.8 million immediate family members of low-skilled workers to come to the United States over the next 20 years.


H-1B: The bill would essentially open the borders to high-skilled workers, as well as low-skilled workers. By increasing the annual cap of 65,000 to 115,000, automatically increasing the new cap by 20 percent each year the cap is hit, and creating a new exemption to new cap for anyone who has an "advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or math" from any foreign university, the number of H-1B workers coming into the United States would undoubtedly escalate. The 20-year impact of this escalation could be anywhere from 1 million to 20.1 million. H-1B workers are eligible for green cards and would be allowed to stay and work in the United States for as long as it takes to process the green card application.


Family Based Green Cards: The bill would increase the annual cap on family based green cards available to non-immediate family members (adult sons and daughters, adults siblings, and the spouses and children of adult siblings) by more than 100 percent, upping the current cap of 226,000 to 480,000 a year. Immediate family members are already able to immigrate without regard to the family based green card caps. The 20-year impact of this change would be an increase of 5.1 million non-immediate family member green cards.

Employment Based Green Cards The bill would increase the annual cap on employment-based green cards by more than 500 percent, upping the current cap of 140,000 to 450,000 until 2016 and to 290,000 thereafter and exempting all immediate family members that currently count against the cap today (spouses, children and parents) from the newly escalated cap. The new exemption would result in an average of 540,000 family members receiving green cards each year of the first 10 years, and an average of 348,000 family members receiving green cards each year of the second 10 years. The 20-year impact of this change would be an increase of 13.5 million employment-based green cards, for a total of 16.3 million employment-based green cards issued over the course of the next 20 years.

Easy to buy fake IDs in Los Angeles

Newsday carried a story about how you can pick up a package of fake IDs for yourself for $300 in Los Angeles. “Around MacArthur Park, sellers who openly offer fake IDs do not actually carry any of the documents. Instead, they negotiate prices as high as $300 for a package containing a driver's license, Social Security card and green card. Next, they send the buyer to a less crowded area a few blocks away, where a picture is taken and the customer pays up. The picture and cash change hands a few times before arriving at an apartment where a laptop, printer and laminating machine spit out the documents. Within an hour, a runner -- perhaps a young man dressed as a student, or an elderly woman -- delivers the documents near the site of the original deal.”

Federal authorities in April arrested nearly 1,200 illegal immigrants and a few managers working at IFCO Systems plants from Southern California to New York. More than half of the 5,800 employees at the pallet and crate manufacturing company in 2005 had invalid or mismatched Social Security numbers, authorities said. In the past, authorities could often break up a network by raiding a central "document mill" where Social Security cards, passports and licenses might be drying on a large printing press, said Kevin Jeffery, deputy agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles.Now documents are made with illegal software on laptop computers. That mobility makes them harder to bust.

immigration population estimates vary widely

The Washington Post carries a story today about widely varying estimates of the size of foreign born populations in the United States. Getting a realistic count can depend on natural disasters that induce many hiding in the shadows to come forward. It appears not hard for people to come up with estimates double that of the Current Population Survey (CPS), but with no heard research documentation.

It start with an example of a woman who has been an exclusively American citizen for nine years but still calls herself Guatemalan. The U.S. Census counts as Guatamalans those who were born there. Embassies here count also children born here because they may claim citizenship their parents’ country of origin.

The 2000 Census says that 105,000 Salvadoreans live in the Washington, DC area. The Current Population Survey, conducted monthly by the Census Bureau, says the number averaged about 130,000 over the past three years. The Salvadorean embassy says 500,000. In addition to passports issued, the ambassador of Salvador bases his calculations on the number of Salvadorans who registered with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for temporary permission to live in the United States after earthquakes rocked El Salvador in 2001. Nationwide, the number of registrants is 244,000. But, León surmises that only half of the people eligible for the temporary residence program after the disaster signed up for it.

Then the ambassador points to a study showing that $1.2 billion flowed into Latin America from immigrants living in the District, Maryland and Virginia in 2004. Most of that went to El Salvador, León said, noting that Salvadorans living in Virginia send home more money annually than those in any state except California. The number of Salvadorans in the Washington region must be far higher then census-based estimates to have sent such a large sum in just one year, the ambassador said.

Embassy officials say the census vastly undercounts immigrant populations, which have skyrocketed since 2000, when the most accurate and detailed figures were released. The Peruvian general consul estimates 70,000 vs. 23,000 in the CPS. Embassy officials say that no matter the number, their communities' populations have shot up exponentially in recent years. Talavera, for example, said the Peruvian Embassy issues 40 percent more national identity cards than it did in 2001.
Experts reject claims that immigrant population figures could be several times higher than the census numbers or than the data derived from the less comprehensive Current Population Survey, which polls 50,000 U.S. households each month. Enrique Escorza, the Mexican general consul in Washington, oversees a region that includes the District and all of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. He puts the Mexican community in that region at 250,000, more than twice the 2000 Census count for the same area.

June 8, 2006

Working conditions in a 800 person poultry plant in Iowa

In May The Forward carried a story, “In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher 'Jungle' Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay”. It is about work for 800 workers starting at $6.25 an hour in one of the largest kosher chicken processing plants in the country. The plant is located in Postville, a 2,500 population town in the rural northeastern part of the state. Writes the author Nathaniel Popper: “The company's business model has been economically successful. AgriProcessors is the only kosher slaughterhouse in America producing both beef and poultry. While AgriProcessors has been expanding steadily, its closest competitor in the poultry industry, Empire Kosher, recently fired employees and cut back operations. Union leaders at Empire Kosher said that the cutbacks were necessary because Empire pays its lowest-ranking unionized employees close to $3 more an hour from the outset than AgriProcessors' lowest employees, and provides full benefits.

Even among nonunion plants, experts say AgriProcessors' salaries are low. "I have not heard of a six-dollar wage since I started working in Nebraska in 1990," said Lourdes Gouveia, director of the Office of Latino Studies at the University of Nebraska, where she studies working conditions in the meat packing industry.

He goes on: “Juana and other employees at AgriProcessors — they total about 800 — told the Forward that they receive virtually no safety training. This is an anomaly in an industry in which the tools are designed to cut and grind through flesh and bones. In just one month last summer, two young men required amputations; workers say there have been others since. The chickens and cattle fly by at a steady clip on metal hooks, and employees said they are berated for not working fast enough. In addition, employees told of being asked to bribe supervisors for better shifts and of being shortchanged on paychecks regularly.”

Thanks to Jason Barab of Confined Space for alerting me to the story.

Colorado split on immigration reform

The state has one of the higher rates of illegal immigrants – 6.5% of the labor force, well above the 4.9% average for the country. Washington delegation members embrace aggressive anti-immigrant positions; the legislature has passed new policing laws; yet on March 25, 50,000 people showed up for a pro immigration rally in Denver.

Congressman Tom Tancredo, Chairman of the 97-member House Immigration Reform Caucus, attacked the Senate’s amnesty bill. According one profile of him, Tancredo believes that “immigration is a life-or-death issue in the culture war to save America”.

At the federal level, Senator Allard voted against the Senate’s immigration bill. Senator Salazar did not vote. A reportied by the Rocky Mountain News, The state legislature passed and Governor Bill Owens signed a bill to create a small immigration enforcement unit in the state police, and to require state contractors to sign up for the federal government’s online program to check a worker’s immigration status. Meanwhile, Denver Mayor Frederico Pena has been organizing a pro-immigration group.

Gov. Bill Owens this week signed into law bills that will create an immigration unit in the Colorado State Patrol and require state contractors to sign up for an online federal program that checks a worker's immigration status.

Senate Bill 225, sponsored by Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, pays for the state trooper unit of 12 officers this year and 24 next year. They will receive training on human trafficking, the crime of sneaking an illegal immigrant into the country for the purposes of forced labor or prostitution.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, the new state police unit will respond to immigration cases and work with authorities from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE will train the officers. Supposedly the unit’s focus will be on trafficking, not going after the illegal workers themselves. The verification program “allows the state to cancel contracts with employers who are found to knowingly hire illegal immigrants. “ this is pretty weak, if the state has to prove that the employerswere aware.

Earlier, a law was enacted that requires police to report suspected illegal immigrants arrested for crimes other than domestic violence or minor traffic violations to immigration authorities.

Also Tuesday, former Denver Mayor Federico Peña outlined his position about efforts in Washington to fix the immigration system.

In a speech to the City Club, Peña said he supports increased security at the Mexican and Canadian borders, better enforcement of laws that punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, and a way for illegal immigrants who don't have criminal records to earn citizenship. He said he also supports 'biometric' identification cards on which immigrants would put their fingerprints or other genetic marker on the cards, making them less vulnerable to counterfeiting.

But he also helped to organize Keep Colorado Safe, which was formed to oppose a ballot initiative that would deny most government services to illegal immigrants. He called the measure 'mean-spirited' and extremely expensive and complicated to implement.

June 7, 2006

The two waves of Hispanic labor into the United States

There have been two major waves of Hispanic labor – each leaving their mark – since the 1980s, when the 1986 immigration bill was passed with the intention of controlling migration from Latin America. These waves account for the large majority of undocumented workers. The present immigration uproar from an historical perspective is understandable once one sees how these two waves differ.

Prior to the 1980s, Hispanic immigrant labor was concentrated in agriculture. But farming stopped being a major attraction because, first, job growth died up; second, wages were better elsewhere.

The first of these two waves was what researcher Steve Striffler calls the rise of the industrial chicken, within a meat processing boom. (Striffler wrote Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food. I have commented on this excellent source before.) According to another researcher, Russell Cobb, In 1990, the U.S. exported 500,000 metric tons of chicken overseas, while in the year 2000 that figure increased five-fold to 2,500,000, as China and Russia became the two largest consumers of U.S. chicken. Latin America provided the enabling labor.

Rurally based, vertically integrated meat processing spawned into a de facto guest worker program. In 1990, 15% of meat processing labor was Hispanic. In 1998 it was 33%. In 2003 it was 43%. This was the first phase of the growth of a post-farmworker illegal workforce in the country.

Meat processing (poultry in the south, beef and pork in the Midwest) expands in other rural locations such as Duplin County, NC (turkeys) Garden City, KS (beef) and Guymon, OK (pork). From North Carolina to Arkansas, as black and white workers move up the economic ladder, Hispanics fill the labor gap. Meat processing took over from agriculture the role of the leading employment sector for illegal immigrants. In these isolated communities, Hispanic populations rose 1000% or more between the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

Reached by phone at his office at the University of Arkansas, where he is on the anthropology faculty, Striffler described how this demand for labor altered illegal immigration. During the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, new tendrils for new labor supply strung together particular communities in Latin America, labor recruiters working often at the Mexican-American border, and particular rural centers of work in the United States. Other industries benefited, for example the carpet manufacturers of Dalton, GA, which experienced a phenomenal rise in Hispanic population in the 1990s.

The second phase of the post farmworker illegal workforce began. Home construction took over from meat processing the role of leading employer in influencing expectations. Hispanic workers flowed into the residential housing boom, moving closer to these jobs in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Hispanic employment in construction stood at 650,000 in 1990; 783,000 in 1995,; and 1,408 in 2000. The Pew Hispanic Center, which closely monitors immigration patterns, estimates more illegal Hispanics work today in construction roofing than in the meat processing industry.

This second wave of immigration brought Hispanic workers in large numbers into metropolitan areas – standing in Home Depot parking lots, for example, making themselves much more visible to the public. While the public had little problem with Hispanics producing cheap meat and rugs from isolated rural factories, they have found their presence in cities and suburbs obnoxious – and this has fueled the anti-immigration movement.

June 5, 2006

Mohawk RICO case dismissed by Supreme Court

In a one paragraph ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the effort by a class action lawyer to use the RICO law in order to sue Mohawk Industries for its use of illegal workers. It sent the case back to the Appeals Court level for reconsideration. The Supreme Court appears in effect to be rejecting the notion that RICO can be applied. If this is the case, a dark cloud is removed from over the heads of thousands of American employers who recruited undocumented workers. For those interested in the Court's apparent reasoning, go to The White Collar Crime Prof Blog which discusses how the Supreme Court had problems with the expansionist use of RICO in another case.

I have covered this RICO strategy in several earlier postings.

Per Reuters, "The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case on whether carpet and floor-covering maker Mohawk Industries Inc. can be sued under the federal anti-racketeering law for allegedly using outside recruiters to hire illegal workers.'

The story continues:

In a one-paragraph ruling, the high court said the appeal was dismissed and that it should not have been granted in the first place. The court gave no explanation why, but the ruling did not decide the main issue. The justices also set aside a U.S. appeals court ruling that the Calhoun, Ga.-based company and the recruiters can constitute an "enterprise" within the meaning of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The justices sent the case back to the appeals court for more consideration in view of a different Supreme Court ruling on Monday in which it held that Ideal Steel Supply Corp. cannot sue rival National Steel Supply under the anti-racketeering law for allegedly underpaying New York sales tax. The court said the direct victim of the alleged racketeering violations is New York state, not Ideal.

In the Mohawk case, a group of current and former employees claimed in the lawsuit that the carpet giant engaged in the systematic hiring of illegal workers and it was done by entering into contracts with outside recruiting firms. Mohawk has denied the allegations.

The employees said they have been hurt because the hiring practices have depressed their wages and they seek triple damages, as provided under the anti-racketeering law. The case attracted attention because it had been before the Supreme Court at a time when Congress is considering a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws and the federal government has been attempting to crack down on companies that hire illegal workers. The anti-racketeering law was initially adopted in 1970 and designed mainly to fight organized crime. But the law has been used in a number of lawsuits against businesses, and in 1996 it was expanded to include violations of federal immigration law.

Analysis of employer liabilities over illegal employees

Risk & Insurance Magazine published an article by me on the current employer dilemma with regard to hiring of illegal immigrants: the workers are needed, but the practice is illegal. Employers hiring workers who live in the United States illegally risk fines and civil lawsuits. In addition, the huge size of the illegal work force is causing the workers' compensation system in some states to deteriorate.

Here is the full text of the article:

The last time the United States tried to reform its immigration laws was in 1986. Now the economic stakes are a lot higher, and vastly more employers are at legal risk. Twenty years ago, illegal workers were mainly in agriculture. Because the 1986 legislation did nothing to prevent more illegal workers from entering the United States, and because the law also fell short in giving them a legitimate status regarding their employment, the reform efforts of 20 years ago are considered a failure.

Since then, the illegal U.S. work force has increased to 7.5 million persons, growing at a rate of 350,000 annually. This is about equal to the number of new legally authorized foreign workers who come each year. Employers large and small who hire illegal workers risk incurring heavy fines from federal immigration authorities. They also risk being targeted by new state laws and aggressive state attorneys general. And they risk private action law suits. Any of these actions can lead to financial ruin. In addition, employers, workers' compensation insurers and state regulators are coping with the impact of the illegal work force on the workers' comp systems, which have deteriorated under the weight of hidden employment practices and legal quandaries.

In Florida, for example, where illegal workers make up 7 percent of the total work force, some employers have been convicted of using forced labor. An investigation by the Palm Beach Post into the practices of the vegetable farming industry documented serious safety and health problems. Florida has long allowed illegal workers to obtain workers' comp benefits. But until 2003, a worker who died on the job and who was neither American nor Canadian was entitled to just 50 percent of workers' comp death benefits. And until a court struck down a state law in late 2005, injured workers were required to show valid Social Security numbers.

Farther north, in Massachusetts, as many as half of serious on-the-job injuries to undocumented workers go unreported. These lapses are most common in high-risk industries, like the restaurant and construction industries.

The majority of illegal workers in the United States come from Mexico. It is estimated that as many as one out of every 100 Mexican workers decides to cross the Rio Grande into the United States. Originally, these workers were part of seasonal farm-worker migrations, a phenomenon of American agriculture since the first half of the 20th century. In recent decades, illegal immigrants have moved into every metropolitan area and many other economic sectors thirsting for large numbers of workers with limited education.

Surveys and statistical studies of these workers reveal how those of Hispanic origin have successfully penetrated the American work force, even though only 3 percent say they speak English very well. Half of these workers have been here for at least five years. About two-fifths live with their spouses, and one-fifth with their children. Half are paid entirely in cash, and the other half presumably have tax deductions taken from their paycheck.

Most say their employer does not demand any work documentation, and those who do are usually satisfied with a facsimile of a Social Security card. Their legal advisers may encourage them to pay taxes, as doing so may help their case in the event of a future amnesty or guest-worker program. The vast majority want to learn English and become American citizens.

Today, it is the housing boom that provides the highest paid jobs. In the space of a decade, Hispanic employment in construction in the United States more than doubled, from 650,000 in 1990 to 1.4 million in 2000, according to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center. The center estimates this year that illegal workers make up 29 percent of all roofing workers. While the housing boom may have been good for property values, it appears also to have had a negative effect on workers' comp systems. A recent study by one researcher, for example, found that Hispanic workers incur more frequent construction deaths than do non-Hispanic white or black workers; this higher frequency holds up even when workers are matched by age, tenure of work and job classification.

Pro-immigrant community activists allege many construction firms are guilty of shoddy safety practices, payroll abuses and failure to file workers' comp claims. They allege that employers who cheat their illegal workers are often cheating the workers' comp system as well. Regulators in numerous states are concerned about the incidence of employer insurance fraud. Some employers fail to buy any workers' comp cover at all.

The more common trick is to reveal only a small portion of their total work force in their payroll disclosure, but run all injuries through to the insurer. These dodges end up cheating insurers, hurting the bulk of law-abiding employers by raising premiums, and creating a huge enforcement problem.

Some states have tried to shore up their workers' comp programs by cracking down on employers who skirt the rules. Massachusetts, for instance, began to make prime contractors more financially responsible for workers' comp practices of subcontractors. This may pose, at least initially, a heavier burden on employers who act within the law and refrain from committing insurance fraud. It does so because the primary contractor must now be responsible for enforcing workers' compensation laws vis-à-vis subcontractors.

As the immigration issue bubbles up in Congress, employers are going to feel even more heat. If Congress fails to pass some kind of illegal-worker enforcement package this year, popular anger may be yet more intense than it already is. Employers today who hire illegal workers directly or through contractors run the risk of federal raids to enforce immigration laws. Though federal resources are scant — the Department of Homeland Security is reported to assign only 325 employees to enforce employer practices — states have become involved, too, with an emerging strategy of imposing penalties through state tax codes. In April, for example, Georgia enacted a law disallowing as a corporate tax expense wages paid to illegal workers.

And perhaps most harmful to employers' bottom line is the risk that they may find themselves the subject of racketeering lawsuits from aggressive plaintiff attorneys. Employers can take measures to protect themselves from future political and legal hassles in hiring immigrant labor, says Overland Park, Kan., immigration attorney Mira Mdivani. She suggests that employers prepare a written immigration compliance plan. Companies should also brief managers on legal developments and show them how to resolve labor shortages without resorting to the use of illegal workers.

In the future, employers may be asked to document that their compensation to foreign workers was reasonable given prevailing wages. In addition, companies need to conduct regular in-house audits, says Mdivani. Suppliers should certify in writing their compliance with the law and agree to indemnification provisions.

The best way to minimize employer risks will be to pass a federal guest-worker program that does not include trap doors for employers. For a guest-worker program to succeed where the 1986 immigration reform initiative did not, three mutually reinforcing elements are vital. One is a comprehensive program to authorize millions of workers and their households while severely limiting the number of evaders. Another is a fast and error-free method of verifying legal status. A third is a path for employers to eliminate their legal risk.

The business lobby in Washington has favorably received the Senate's efforts to pass a bill that combines a guest-worker program with a tough border-enforcement provision. Lobbyists with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say they're worried about language that may make a business liable for the infractions of its suppliers, or liable for sanctions simply on the grounds of having hired illegal workers. The chamber is trying to eliminate liability arising out of errors and delays that occur when an employer seeks to verify work authorization status. And it has been seeking to limit employer liability to private action suits.

Even if a well-designed act were enacted in 2006, its implementation will take years. And, at the state level, the workers' comp systems need shoring up. These are not about to happen overnight.