Hiring illegal immigrants remains a hot topic | NevadaAppeal.com

Hiring illegal immigrants remains a hot topic

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

RENO – Employers have a duty to avoid hiring illegal immigrants, federal officials said at a business meeting Thursday, and looking the other way or pleading ignorance can mean the end of your business – or even your freedom.

“We know there are businesses in our area of operation who may be hiring substantial numbers of illegal aliens,” said Curtis Hemphill, a Reno agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He said there are about 900 cases of illegal workers in the Reno/Carson City area who have absconded before they could have a deportation hearing.

The current political climate makes immigration a hot topic in business circles.

The U.S. House resolution would make it a felony – punishable by jail time – to live in the United States without authorization. It’s a civil offense now.

The Senate legislation puts illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, rather than making them felons. It supports many of the same proposals as the House bill, such as tougher border security, but it differed in proposing a guest-worker program.

A 1986 law made it a crime to employ an undocumented worker, but is difficult to enforce with only about 5,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents working across the United States.

Employers are required to verify identification, such as Social Security numbers, but they often don’t check the numbers with the feds. The new legislation would require all employers to verify their employees’ work status though a national computer system. The House and Senate versions must be reconciled next, and then “dramatic changes” will come to the system, said John College, a resident agent for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Work-site enforcement will become a greater priority, and employers in violation will face fines or criminal charges leading to jail time, College said. People immigrate for jobs in prosperous economies, and business owners are responsible for helping to enforce U.S. laws.

“You are responsible,” he said at a Thursday morning Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Airport Plaza Hotel. About 30 business owners questioned the agents on immigration law. “And there are common-sense things you can do to ensure that you are not employing illegal aliens.”

Some in attendance expressed confusion about spotting fraudulent documents or firing a person if they have suspicions. College said employers don’t have to be experts in detecting fraudulent documents. Often fake documents can be spotted easily. An online search can determine a valid Social Security number and, when in doubt, a few questions can help employers determine if the person matches the Social Security number.

Once payroll deductions start, Social Security should inform the employer about a bogus number. But some employers avoid this by paying under the table.

Both immigration officials said there are a lot more illegal immigrants and employers breaking the law than there are enforcement agents, a situation that could change with current legislation.

An employer has a civic duty to perform due diligence when hiring; that means checking out all numbers and names, College said. If the employer looks the other way, or advises the worker to acquire another Social Security number, then the employer is guilty of a felony.

“And anything you’ve purchased with the proceeds of illegal labor can be seized or any property that facilitate immigrant violations,” College said. “If you own your own building, we can take your building.”

Illegal immigrant employment is happening, said Rosa Garza, a credit specialist with Citizens for Affordable Homes in Carson City.

She was surprised to hear at the meeting that Nevada didn’t keep driver’s license photos on file until about three years ago, which made it easy for multiple people to use the same name and address to find work.

“It’s good to know now that we’re up to date,” she said.

By the numbers

Immigration violations in the U.S.

Oct. 2005-present

• 445 criminal investigation work site cases

• 2,700 illegal immigrants arrested in connection with these cases

2005

176 criminal investigation work site cases

Researchers from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate that nearly 10 percent of Nevada’s work force consisted of illegal immigrants in 2004, more than double the national figure. With a statewide job base in 2004 of roughly 1.1 million workers, that means about 105,000 workers in Nevada were undocumented that year. Current estimates put the number of illegal workers nationwide as high as 12 million.

Tools to help employers

• The Basic Employment Verification Pilot Program, offered at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site at http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/services/SAVE.htm. This is a Web site that runs names and Social Security numbers.

• Some phony green cards can be detected by looking at the images of the presidents and flags. Blurry images are counterfeit.

• Bogus Social Security cards will glow under a black light, according to the immigration officials.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.