Without Immigration Reform, ID Rules Cost Businesses

She is a Denver-area businesswoman, who has always obeyed the law regarding immigrant workers. She still does it by the book. That’s why she laid off 20 long-time employees at the first of the year when their Social Security numbers didn’t match federal records.

Now, those ex-workers have been hired by competitors, and she’s gone through more than 150 workers trying to replace them.This lady, who asked that her name not be printed, measures the lack of comprehensive immigration reform in a revolving door of untrained, under-motivated, unreliable people who can’t do the job she needs them to do.

But hey, they’re American citizens.

“I think what irritates me the most is that every person I had to lay off was an asset to this country,” said the woman, who had dutifully checked two forms of identification on each of the workers she let go. “They were all family orientated. There were a few DUI’s in the group, but nothing more serious. They came here to make a better life for their families.”

Instead, she said, she saw “220 years of experience walk out the door” with the 20 fired workers. They have all gone from having health insurance and workman’s compensation to having no benefits, she said. They have all gone from paying taxes on their incomes and non-matching Social Security numbers to collecting cash under the table.

The businesswoman can’t figure out who came out ahead. Certainly not the workers. Certainly not her. Certainly not the American taxpayer.

“I have seen more felons come through my door since immigration reform,” she said.

Those felons weren’t illegal immigrants as some would have you believe. American ex-cons represent the labor pool she has had to dip into to find replacements for her undocumented workers.

Many of those ex-cons didn’t last.

“They didn’t care about the job or getting ahead,” she said. “I’ve had policemen come in here looking for people for parole violations because this was their last known work address.”

A human resources director at another local company hasn’t had that kind of turnover. But following an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audit that found five “unauthorized aliens” on her payroll, she, too, has been reduced to scouring half-way houses. “That,” she said, “is where you can find people to work for the wages.”

Like the first woman, the human resources director didn’t want her name publicized. She tried to play by the rules.

“We used a company to do background checks that included a Social Security check on everyone we hired,” the human resources director said. “We now do ‘E Verify.'”

That electronic ID program operates through the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. In the past two months, the human resources director has hired a dozen workers without a single disqualification.

The woman who had to fire 20 long-time workers has gone to the government’s Basic Pilot program to match new employees’ Social Security numbers with names. Of the 150-plus that she’s screened, 24 didn’t match.

The trouble for both women is that better identification has resulted in worse business. “The people I terminated were some of the best employees we ever had,” said the human resources director.

Even good replacements cost time and money to train. That’s why the human resources director hopes Congress will pass an immigration bill that includes a way for the folks she fired to become legal.

Her counterpart, who is going through employees by the dozens, could not agree more.

She feels the folks she had to fire “are good contributors to this society” who “are not taking jobs from Americans.”

“They need to do something for them,” the woman said.

The proverbial “they” – the powers-that-be – obviously need to do something.

Businesses shouldn’t get hurt playing by the rules. That is what’s happening. Sure, enforcement weeds out undocumented workers. But employers suffer productivity and staffing problems.

Meanwhile, the illegal immigrants don’t go home.

“All ICE wanted was for us to fire people,” said the human resources director. “But ICE didn’t do anything to them.”

Rather, they just sank deeper into an underground economy, contributing less in taxes than they did before.

Until Congress passes realistic immigration reform, the cycle of counter-productivity will continue.

“It’s a broken process,” said the human resources director. “Definitely.”