Pho to by Alan Pog u e jail terms. It provides amnesty for immigrants who can prove they have been in the U.S. continuously since before Jan. 1, 1982. But contradictions and loopholes in the bill make it doubtful that very many construction company presidents, luxury hotel owners, or headwaiters will go directly to jail, unless they have made heavy contributions to the wrong political party. It is also dubious that swarms of denizens of the underground economy will suddenly come forward, claim citizenship, and swell the welfare roles. First of all, employers are not required to verify the authenticity of documents presented by workers. “Unless the documents, clearly have white-out on them, you can accept them,” Soto said. Next, the law does not apply to employees on the books before the bill passed, so nobody has to check on current employees. There will be no penalties against employers for the first six months after the bill becomes law. They will be subject only to warnings during the subsequent 12 months. It takes three convictions before the prison terms and fines of up to $10,000 can be used as penalties. Meanwhile, violators have probably saved enough on salaries per illegal worker per year to buy good legal defense, or they have prudently transferred their light manufacturing operations to Taiwan or Mexico itself, costing U.S. supervisors their jobs and wiping out the benefits of wages and purchases to the U.S. economy. “The question is, how in God’s name are you going to enforce it?” said Calvin P. Blair, a professor of international business at U.T.-Austin. Blair and others say the INS will have to pick and choose and make examples. Like IRS audits, employer sanctions could be used as a tool to harass political enemies. “If we really enforced it, it would take a massive effort and create great economic disorder in the U.S. and Mexico. We’ve got thousands of firms which are dependent on migratory labor, much of which is illegal,” Blair said. He said federal money sufficient to enforce the law is simply not there. Dr. Jim Smith, acting director and chief economist of the Bureau of Business Research, said, if the bill is actually enforced, “you could tie the Texas econony in knots. It’s too overwhelming. It could wipe out the nanny market in Washington, D.C., and that’s going to hit those Congressmen in a hurry.” Jim Harrington said employers will turn to subcontractors and cash payments. And when business owners pay subcontractors in cash, it means no records and a diminished ability to enforce minimum wage laws, or to make sure the employer pays fairly for workers compensation or unemployment compensation. THE AMNESTY PROVISIONS of . the bill create a new resident alien category. In the past, people could enter the country only as permanent residents or with temporary permits, such as student or tourist visas. Now, immigrants who can prove continuous residence since 1982 will be able to seek temporary resident status for 18 months, then apply to become permanent residents. It was this provision that Halfway in, halfway out. angered . Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who said such claim jumping to U.S. residency was unfair to foreigners who stood in line and played by the rules. But like mice faced with amnesty offers from a cat, it will take a massive change in attitude before undocumented workers come forward to ask the INS for applications. Applicants can check with private agencies and volunteer groups to make sure they have sufficient paperwork before going to INS. But many may prefer to sink deeper into the shadows of the underground economy rather than coming forward and rocking the boat. Besides, those who gain temporary resident status would be ineligible for welfare, food stamps, AFDC, and all other benefits except emergency medical help for five years. Yet they would be paying into the federal and state tax systems throughout that period. If immigrants have been well-hidden, it may be too hard to prove they have been in continuous residence for five years. Employers may be reluctant to help them prove residence, especially if the employer has not been sending in income tax or social security payments. Then there is the question of the ability of INS to process hundreds of thousands of amnesty applications, given the fact that the agency has been unable to stop entry into the U.S., presumably because it did not have sufficient resources. Experts say that, when it comes to amnesty or stopping illegal immigrants, the new immigration bill will simply not do what it says it will do. But there are many people who believe it will do what its proponents say it won ‘t —- that is, give employers a tool for justifying discrimination against native-born Hispanics and Asians. “We absolutely hate, it,” said Joe Morin of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce. He said the law places a tremendous burden on Hispanics seeking employment, especially seasonal, temporary, or low-paying jobs. It places an equally tough burden on employers, who must prove they hired their workers legally, then prove they have not discriminated against anyone. “Everybody is suspect if they don’t look like their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, including the people whose ancestors were here before the Mayflower. This is a bizarre bill,” said the Research Bureau’s Smith. Harrington said it is inevitable that the bill will be used to discriminate against Hispanics. All the employer has to do is state that the job candidate could not prove satisfactorily that he or she is here legally. Although the bill mandates the Justice Department to investigate such discrimination, Harrington said, setting up “Ed Meese to investigate is totally absurd.” And, he said, the firing of people without proper documentation will not send a sudden stream of Mexicans and THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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