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If your company hires illegal aliens, it had better not be in Chicago. A new study of America's three-year-old immigration reform law finds that companies hiring undocumented immigrants were fined an average of $45,545 in Chicago.

In contrast, firms in San Antonio were tapped for fines of only $850, on average. Fines in other cities ranged from $11,511 in New York and $4,458 in Los Angeles to $2,892 in Laredo, Tex.

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Analysts who spent two years scrutinizing immigration reform legislation for the Urban Institute and the RAND Corporation say enforcement of the 1986 law urgently needs improvement. Otherwise, ``serious inequities in the treatment of employers'' could develop and the future of the law could be threatened, the study concludes.

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act made it illegal for American firms to hire anyone who lives unlawfully in the United States. Violations can bring fines and even imprisonment for employers.

The study notes that the US Immigration and Naturalization Service avoided serious mistakes during the first three years of enforcing the new law. But they warn: ``This ... is largely due to the decision to go slow on enforcement. [But] arrangements that were adequate for the start-up phase would be seriously inadequate for a more mature program.''

The analysts pointed to four specific problems: unequal treatment of violators from city to city; ``chronically undermanned'' INS offices, which could result in inadequate enforcement; an urgent need for stronger investigative capabilities to track down small, mobile firms that rely heavily on illegal immigrant labor; and a ``lack of clarity about the grounds on which INS would seek criminal penalties.''

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