I spent time at the beach in the mid-Atlantic region this summer and while I was ordering margaritas or shopping for local peaches, I came across many workers that I suspect were illegal immigrants, including many from Russia and Mexico.
Maybe you know someone who employs an illegal immigrant. Some small businesses thrive thanks to this labor pool.
So what happens when the federal government decides to crack down on businesses that hire illegals, instead of focusing on border security and long fences?
It's not going to be pretty.
|Jason Reed / Reuters|
|Protesters calling for immigration law reform wave U.S. flags as they march past the Capitol Building during a rally on the Washington Mall last year.|
The federal government is preparing to introduce new rules that will punish businesses that knowingly hire and keep illegal immigrants on the books. The punishment could be as high as $10,000 per illegal employee.
It's called the "No-Match" regulation.
The government will notify employers if a worker's name and Social Security number don't match government records. The employer then has 90 days to either figure out if there's an error or fire the worker.
Small-business advocates are being cautious on their take of the new law. "Until we see how this actually plays out in the real world, we're adopting a wait-and-see attitude," says a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business.
It's easy to end up hiring one of these folks. Have you seen fake IDs lately? They're nothing like they were when I was underage and trying to sneak into bars.
And let's face it, small firms typically don't have an HR staff at the ready making sure everyone's documents are in order. You have to be an expert to figure that out today.
I would think most entrepreneurs who didn't know they had illegal workers in their midst probably will respond quickly to a "No-Match" notice. Why wouldn't they?
But what about those small business owners who know exactly what they're doing? (Many restaurant owners and small farmers say they need undocumented immigrant workers to survive.)
This isn't a tiny group hiding in the shadows. There are 7.2 million illegal immigrants holding jobs in the United States, or about 5 percent of the nation's total work force, says the Pew Hispanic Center.
So what do we do with the people writing the paychecks?
Bust 'em, Danno! That's probably what Lou Dobbs would say. (The CNN commentator has been on a one-man crusade to rid the country of every last illegal worker.)
I have mixed feelings on the issue.
If the firms that use illegal workers as a way to keep their payroll costs down were stopped, then there would be more good-paying jobs for Americans. But I understand how immigrants are desperate to make a better life for themselves here. (My parents, who are both of Greek descent, were looking for a better life when they came to America from Turkey.)
At the same time, it's unfair to small business owners who play by the rules to be undercut by their lawless counterparts. On the other hand, if legal U.S. residents were clamoring to pick fruit or bus tables, then the need for illegal workers would diminish, an argument U.S. business owners have been making for years.
Alas, "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a merry Christmas."
No matter where you stand, fines supposedly are coming for those businesses that fail to do something about their "No-Matches" starting Sept. 14.
Let's see how savvy, albeit naughty, entrepreneurs get around this one.