ImmigrationEmployers in a bind over the administration’s deferred deportation executive order

Published 4 October 2012

The administration’s 15 June executive order defers deportation action against 1.2 million illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria; those who apply for the 2-year deferment should prove, for example, that they have lived in the United States for at least five years, and one way to do so would be a job verification from their employers; employers, however, are concerned that those employers who agree to these requests may be acknowledging that they knowingly hired an illegal immigrant, a violation of federal law

When DHS announced the suspension of deportation of young immigrants, Manuel Cunha, who has been fighting for over thirty years for legal immigrants to work the farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley, was initially excited.

After reading the fine print on the program, however, Cunha is telling farmers and their employers to be more cautious.

The New York Times reports that immigrants who apply for the 2-year deferment are able to get job verification from their employers as a way to show that they have lived in the United States for at least five years, but employers are concerned that employers who agree to those requests may be acknowledging that they knowingly hired an illegal immigrant, a violation of federal law.

Employers now fear that the government could one day prosecute them as a result.

“The Department of Homeland Security is not friendly at all to us,”Cunha, the president of the Nisei Farmers League, told the New York Times. “We have seen agriculture being audited and targeted. For the workers, after two years this program could end. And then the agency could go after the employers for hiring illegal aliens.”

Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) has been receiving application for the program since 15 August, and so far the service has received 82,000 applications. The estimate is that there are 1.2 million immigrants who are  immediately eligible for the program, and immigration advocates say the slow pace of application is due to unexpected obstacles.

In order to qualify for the program, you must have been less than thirty-one years old on 15 June, when the program was first announced. Applicants must show they came to the United States before they were sixteen years old and have been in the United States. for at least five years on 15 June.

Applicants must also pass criminal background checks and be enrolled in school, have a high school diploma, or be honorably discharged from a branch of the military.

If an applicant is approved, they receive what is known as a deferred action, and work permits, but they do not gain citizenship or legal immigration status.

Many famers in California rely on low-wage labor of immigrants (legal or illegal). Immigrants work on the farms to help pay for college and others work on farms full-time. According to the Migration Policy Institute, almost 740,000 Immigrants who are eligible for the program are in the work force.

“If you have actual knowledge that an employee is not authorized to work, you can’t employ them.” Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis told the Times

According to Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, people who ask for work verification are admitting to having worked illegally. Eventually they could obtain deferment status, but they might be fired by their companies until they get it.

CIS has issued new guidelines confirming that businesses can provide verification for applicants and that the information will not be shared with enforcement agencies “unless there is evidence of egregious violations of criminal statutes or widespread abuses,” the guidelines say.

DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard told theTimes the agency is focusing enforcement resources on threats to public safety and officials would only investigate if applications pointed to “widespread patterns and practices of unlawful hiring” or “abusive employers who are violating other criminal laws.”

Jacoby and Cunha were not comforted by Boogaard’s statement.  “That’s a safety net with a lot of holes in it.” Jacoby said. DHS officials, for their part, say that “they are not interested in using this as a way to identify one-off cases where some individuals may have violated some federal law in an employment relationship.”