Judge blocks key part of Bush immigration crackdown


San Francisco : A federal judge in San Francisco has issued an injunction barring the Bush administration from threatening to prosecute businesses if they fail to fire workers whose social security numbers don’t match government records.

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The so-called no-match rule had been a cornerstone of the government’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration. But US district judge Charles Breyer blocked the move Wednesday, saying that if implemented, “it would result in irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers”.

The administration had planned to send letters to 140,000 employers whose payroll included at least 10 workers whose Social Security numbers did not match the government’s database.

The letters would give the employer 90 days to resolve the discrepancy and an additional three days for an employee to submit a new, valid number. After that, an employer who failed to fire the worker would be subject to civil fines or criminal prosecution under a 1986 law that prohibits businesses from knowingly employing illegal immigrants.

The proposal was contested in the courts by labour unions, who said the no-match rule would lead to widespread firings of legal employees who were the victims of commonly made clerical errors, or had simply changed their names due to marriage or divorce.

Many workers would be unable to locate records within sprawling federal agencies and clear up discrepancies within 90 days, the unions said.

On Wednesday the judge agreed. “There is a strong likelihood that employers may simply fire employees who are unable to resolve the discrepancy within 90 days, even if the employees are actually authorised to work,” Breyer said.

Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, whose agency issued the rule, said the government would consider its options, including an appeal to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.