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Lawmakers seek to crack down on illegal immigrants

by The Big Boss Friday, Jun. 24, 2005 at 8:04 PM

See what your behavior has brought? And this is just the beginning.

Lawmakers seek to crack down on illegal immigrants

By Alan Elsner

Reuters

Thursday, June 23, 2005; 11:52 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Life for the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants living in the shadows in the United States could soon get even tougher as states and the federal government pass new legislation cracking down on them.

In several states, legislators have proposed and in some cases passed bills barring illegal immigrants and their families from receiving health, welfare and other public benefits.

Maryland will soon begin cutting off thousands of children of legal as well as illegal immigrants from health care benefits and may also cut immigrant pregnant women off the state's health rolls.

Virginia recently passed a measure denying illegal aliens public benefits, including access to Medicaid, welfare and local health care services.

Arizona voters last year approved a measure requiring state employees to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities if they apply for benefits.

"There are people out there who believe the answer to our broken immigration system is to make the lives of illegal immigrants so miserable they will go back home, and they are working at the federal and state level to do so," said Michele Waslin of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic group.

On the federal level, the Real ID Act, signed by President Bush last month will require anyone seeking to get or renew a driver's license to provide proof of citizenship or legal immigration status.

Now, several lawmakers are looking at ways to enforce an existing 1986 law prohibiting employers from giving undocumented workers jobs.

"That is the only way to eliminate the job market for undocumented workers. It is the only way to reduce the magnet for illegal immigration," Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said in a recent speech.

TOUGHER PENALTIES ON EMPLOYERS

Cornyn, who wants to create a guest worker program for foreigners to work legally in the United States, is co-sponsoring a bill that would create a nationwide electronic system to verify the immigration status of prospective employees. It would also increase the penalties for hiring or continuing to employ illegal aliens and require the Department of Homeland Security to hire 2,000 new personnel annually for each of the next five years to enforce the law.

"So many illegal immigrants are already living in the shadows, afraid of being caught and deported," Waslin said. "In the workplace, they are incredibly vulnerable and exploitable. They don't join unions, they are not protected by labor laws, they have high rates of workplace accidents and death and they are vulnerable to crime."

In recent years, the government has done almost nothing to enforce the law banning the employment of illegal immigrants.

Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office, told a House of Representatives subcommittee this week the number of notices of intent to fine employers for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers fell from 417 in 1999 to three last year.

A computerized pilot program is available for employers to verify their employees' Social Security numbers but last year only 2,300 of the nation's 5.6 million employers used it.

On the other side of the debate are the industries that benefit from millions of low wage workers doing jobs that most Americans are simply unwilling to do.

"Our immigration system has no legal way for peaceful, hardworking people to come in and find those jobs," said Daniel Griswold of the conservative Cato Institute.

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