Citing to the many problems created by having a country with an estimated 11 million undocumented persons, President Barack Obama gave a speech in El Paso, Texas on May 10, 2011 calling for comprehensive immigration reform. In the weeks preceding this speech, the President met with leaders from faith groups, business, law enforcement officials, current and former elected officials and others about the need to fix the broken immigration system, why it matters to the American economy and how to better use our national security and law enforcement resources. During the speech, the President called upon the audience to join the discussion and let Washington “know that there is a movement for reform that’s gathering strength from coast to coast.”
Subsequent to the speech the White House released its Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System summarizing President’s Obama’s vision for fixing the broken immigration system, which includes: securing the border, holding businesses accountable for exploiting undocumented workers, and forcing persons illegally present to “get on the right side of the law.” Critics from both sides of the immigration issue, those who support a legalization program for undocumented immigrants and those who advocate for lower levels of immigration, agree to some extent that the President’s push is political. In fact, the President’s call for reform is similar in some respects to the call for comprehensive reform made by his predecessor George W. Bush well in advance of his bid for reelection in 2004. Only time will tell, but immigration is such a difficult, complicated and emotional topic that the only certainty is that comprehensive reform will not come easily.
For employers, it is relevant to note that the President’s Blueprint reaffirmed the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) worksite enforcement strategy designed to penalize employers that knowingly hire illegal workers and that are involved in related crimes. DHS has implemented this strategy through “robust use of audits of employment verification records, civil fines and debarment, and by promoting compliance tools.” Since January 2009, more than 4,600 employers have been audited, 317 companies and individuals have been debarred, and approximately $61 million in financial sanctions have been levied. Employers can expect more of the same and thus are well-advised to revisit immigration compliance efforts, including I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form documents and procedures.