White House Plans to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

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Crackdown will include more raids and deportations, as well as heftier fines for U.S. businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.

Disconcerted with Congress’ failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform this summer, the Bush administration on Friday announced plans to crack down on the stream of undocumented immigrants, departing from the wait-and-see attitude that marked the administration’s approach to this thorny issue.

The stepped-up enforcement includes heftier fines for U.S. businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, increased criminal prosecutions and frequent raids and deportations.

At a joint press conference Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the administration will use its powers to enforce the existing laws since Congress failed to act.

A bipartisan effort to rewrite immigration laws in Congress failed twice in the Senate this summer. Chertoff and Gutierrez, who helped author and lobby the bill in the Senate, said the administration wouldn’t sit idle while immigrants pour into the country.

Under the new rule, which will take effect in September, employers are required to electronically cross-check candidates’ Social Security numbers against federal data. The employer must fire that employee in the event of a “mismatch.”

Should the employer fail to do that, it faces a fine of $12,500 per violation, a 25 percent increase. The government might also prosecute that employer criminally, depending on how egregious the violation is.

In fact, the Bush administration has already accelerated cracking down on undocumented immigrants, deporting more than 185,000 last year–the most ever in a single year, according to Homeland Security. It also stepped up criminal investigations.

Experts believe that by taking these sweeping measures, the Bush administration is putting Congress’ feet on fire so that influential employers, especially farmers and owners of restaurants, where the majority of undocumented immigrants work, start pushing Congress to fix the broken immigration system.