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Bill Targets Immigration Law’s Employer Sanctions : Legislation: Coalition of business and civil rights groups backs bipartisan measure. It seeks to end fines, discrimination.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, backed by an unusual coalition of business and civil rights organizations, began pushing legislation Friday to repeal employer sanctions in a 1986 law meant to curb illegal immigration.

The repeal measure was introduced in Congress by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles), who charged that the threat of fines and jail terms against employers has led to widespread discrimination against Latino and Asian-American job-seekers.

They also claimed that the sanctions--which were at the core of the 1986 statute--have imposed a heavy burden on businesses.

As an alternative, the conservative senator and liberal congressman proposed spending more than $90 million a year to strengthen border patrols and prosecution of discrimination cases.

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“This bill will safeguard American citizens and legal workers who happen to look foreign or speak with an accent, whose civil rights have been systematically violated by the current employer sanctions,” Roybal said.

Hatch asserted that “undocumented aliens continue to pour into this country” despite the 1986 law. He said that “some employers have engaged in illegal discrimination” and have been saddled with “paperwork and related burdens.”

Hatch appeared at a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers--including a key senator, Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)--and with leaders of Latino and other civil rights organizations.

Business groups also strongly support the repeal, U.S. Chamber of Commerce official Damon Tobias said in an interview.

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But the bill, similar to one that went nowhere last year, quickly met stiff resistance from Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), co-author with Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.) of the 1986 legislation that transformed the nation’s immigration laws.

“If this (repeal) bill passes,” Simpson said, “a very clear message will go out to the world: ‘Well, the U.S. no longer is serious at all about controlling its borders. Come on in, the more the merrier. You can go to work and be pretty well exploited because there is no way to penalize employers.’

“I’m not talking about xenophobia or anything else,” he added. “I’m just talking about a tide .”

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, acknowledged it would be tough to win repeal of sanctions but said the effort would be helped by a new grass-roots campaign and by reapportionment in the wake of the 1990 census.

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“The redistricting process throughout the country is going to mean an increase in Hispanic elected officials in Congress and at all levels of government,” he said. “We intend to mobilize . . . to press for repeal.”

Proponents of repeal cited a 1990 report by Congress’ General Accounting Office, which found that “many employers discriminated because the law’s verification system does not provide a simple or reliable method to verify job applicants’ eligibility to work.”

On the other hand, Simpson released an internal GAO memo that criticized the report.

“We have no strong causal link between IRCA (the 1986 law) and discrimination,” a top GAO official wrote. “It is just as likely that the discrimination we found has always been there.”

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Not only is the law working, Simpson contended, but the alternative advanced by Hatch and Roybal is unlikely to be funded under current fiscal constraints.


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