The director of the General Accounting Office on Friday discouraged Congress from lifting legal sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens, calling instead for improved documents to help companies tell legal workers from illegal ones.
Comptroller General Charles A. Bowsher’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee came in response to a study by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, which charged that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act has led to “widespread discrimination” against legal Latino, Asian and black job applicants.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the panel’s immigration subcommittee, has introduced legislation calling for repeal or reform of the law within 30 days. An identical measure has been filed in the House.
However, Bowsher told the committee he blames most of the discrimination on “good-faith confusion on the part of the employer” about the law’s requirements. The easy availability of counterfeit worker identification papers also is prompting employers to shy away from all foreign-born workers for fear of being penalized for hiring an illegal one.
“Most (employers) are just very dubious of the multiple sets of documents that people can present to them,” Bowsher said.
He endorsed Immigration and Naturalization Service efforts to pare the variety of worker-authorization documents accepted to as few as two. He also spoke in favor of developing a uniform, “counterfeit-resistant” worker identification card that employers could trust. Either approach “could reduce the amount of discrimination,” he said.
A coalition of immigrant rights groups are seeking repeal of the employer sanctions. Those groups also are fighting any move toward what they call a “national identity card.”
Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigration project, said even a voluntary form of such identification “could become a de facto minority identification card. The people who don’t fit the stereotype of American would be forced to get that card.”
But Bowsher said identification documents are already a commonly accepted part of American life.
“Ask people in L.A. when the last time was that they could cash a check without having to show their driver’s license,” he said.
The congressional study, released Thursday and based on surveys of more than 9,400 employers nationwide, found Los Angeles employers at or near the top in use of discriminatory practices compared to other large cities around the nation.
About 29% of Los Angeles employers were rejecting applicants on the basis of appearance or citizenship, 10% more than the national average, the study found. An estimated 16% were subjecting Latino and Asian applicants to special scrutiny, and 17% were only willing to hire U.S.-born workers.
Bowsher and other GAO officials said employer education efforts should be intensified to combat such discrimination.
In a survey last year, about 40% of employers “still said they didn’t understand the specific document requirements. They didn’t quite understand the specific hiring restrictions,” said Richard Fogel, the GAO assistant comptroller general.