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A worthy check on illegal workers

Rules to check Social Security numbers of workers are a needed step for enforcement.

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The backlash has been swift and powerful. No sooner did the Bush administration announce new measures to enforce the nation's immigration laws last week than opponents jumped to their feet to object . But Washington must resist and give enforcement a chance to work.

Standing up to the critics won't be easy. Businesses that depend on illegal immigrants for low-wage labor are warning of disaster under the new regulations, especially those that affect the workplace.

The most criticized rule requires employers to follow up on "no-match" letters from the Social Security Administration. These notices alert them when the nine-digit sequence provided by their workers fails to match the Social Security database.

Businesses routinely ignore the letters for lack of consequence. Now, if their identified workers are unable to clear up the mismatch and prove legal status, they must be fired – or employers will face significantly higher fines of up to $10,000 per employee (not to mention criminal charges).

Business are sounding dooms-day warnings: At least two-thirds of the workers in construction and agriculture are illegal migrants, so if the law is enforced, crops may very well rot in the fields and the rebuilding effort in New Orleans screech to a halt (employers could alleviate this by paying higher wages). Consumer prices would probably rise.

If only Congress had passed "comprehensive" immigration reform this year, employers lament. Then there would be enough legal workers. Then America would have faced up to economic reality.

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