WASHINGTON – The government says it will rewrite rules for penalizing employers of illegal immigrants to try to satisfy a federal judge in San Francisco who put the crackdown on hold.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer stopped the Bush administration last month from going ahead with enforcement of regulations requiring employers to fire workers if their Social Security numbers did not match records and the discrepancies could not be addressed in 90 days. In issuing the temporary injunction, the judge said the Social Security database contained errors that could have cost many legal workers their jobs, and the government did not properly study the effect of the rules on business.
Late Friday, Breyer agreed to a request from the administration to put the case on hold while it reworks the regulations — a process bound to put off enforcement until the spring. The judge stayed proceedings until March 24, when the government thought it could have new rules ready on how to enforce immigration laws in the workplace.
Business, labor and civil liberties groups had sued to stop the "no match" rules, arguing the plan would trap companies and workers in a costly bureaucratic nightmare.
In its motion, the administration acknowledged that the judge had found "serious questions on the merits" raised by the case. "A stay will prevent the waste of judicial resources in litigating over a rule that is in the process of being revised," the administration's brief said. "Defendants hope and anticipate that the amended rule will fully address the Court's concerns."
The plan is meant to expose illegal immigrants who get jobs by giving out fake Social Security numbers and penalize companies that employ them. Nothing in the brief suggested the government would ultimately back away from a "no match" plan as it looked for ways to make enforcement pass legal muster.
In September, a month after the plan was announced, the government had about 140,000 letters ready to be sent to employers, each identifying 10 or more employees with mismatches in their records. But the case stopped enforcement from proceeding. Breyer issued the injunction Oct. 10.