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TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Amnesty for employers, not illegal immigrants

It is highly unfair to penalize employers for a de facto shift in U.S. policy on illegal immigration.

Current law allows fines of $250 per worker for employing illegal immigrants. But the kicker is that employers had to knowingly employ these people to have violated the law. That opened the door wide for willful abuse because the unwritten policy has been to flood the workplace with cheap workers who hold down labor costs.

Now that public sentiment is shifting the other way, some in Congress want to hold employers liable for the lax enforcement. That's hardly fair. But the government must hold them strictly accountable for any future violations once it sets up a foolproof identification system.

Nor should the government allow illegal immigrants to buy their way to citizenship through $3,250 in fines and fees. Under current law, simply entering the U.S. illegally is punishable by a six-month prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney Alice Martin of the Northern District of Alabama warned in Decatur last week that state employers are about to feel the shift in public policy. "Should you be an employer hiring illegals, please be forewarned that work-site enforcement is about to be stepped up at plant facilities and retail," she said.

But, she conceded, cracking down has its limitations, including having adequate translators.

The Senate immigration bill passed last week recognizes that the government cannot and should not round up Hispanics in a modern-day Trail of Tears. It can, however, make it expensive to work illegal immigrants. As jobs dry up, these border jumpers will make their way home because there is no work here.

The U.S. is and should remain a land of immigrants, but what the federal government is allowing to happen could be a disaster for the future. Congress must act, not by building a shameful fence but by creating a high-tech identification system and having employers hire only workers with legitimate documents. To say such a system is impractical is to continue endorsing the policy of cheap, illegal labor.

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