Obama's Focus on Employers Causes Massive Firings, California Immigrant Activists Say

A month ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent letters to 652 businesses across the country to let them know their hiring records would be audited “to determine whether or not they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.” The goal was to check whether those companies have been making sure they are not hiring people not authorized to work in the U.S., a.k.a. undocumented immigrants.

Workers protest firings at Overhill Farms - Illustration: Southern California Immigration Coalition

Workers protest firings at Overhill Farms - Illustration: Southern California Immigration Coalition

The initiative apparently has led to firings at some of those companies. Last Saturday, pro-immigration activists and workers demonstrated in Los Angeles to demand that President Obama stop the audits as well as the use of e-Verify, an employee ID verification system widely criticized by immigrant advocates.

ICE’s increased vigilance over employers –it said the number of letters it sent in July exceeds the numbers sent during the entire previous fiscal year– follows Obama’s promises that his approach to enforcing immigration laws would focus more on the labor demand side rather than on the supply, i.e. the undocumented workers who’ve been the target of raids and deportations in the last few years.

But L.A. activists said this particular measure has swollen the ranks of the unemployed in the midst of the economic crisis.

“We want to underline again the importance of stopping the anti-immigrant policies of President Obama, a policy of auditing the bosses that is generating massive firings without there being immigration reform,” said Nativo López, president of the Mexican-Latin American Brotherhood, according to L.A. newspaper La Opinión.

“There’s only lies and no relief for the people,” he added.

Overhill Farms has fired close to 300 people after receiving no-match letters, which are sent when an employee’s name and Social Security number do not correspond with each other, López told La Opinión. He added those firings are being contested because the government itself has replaced that system with e-Verify, which would render them invalid.

“These people are going through hard times because they are out of work, but there’s a good chance they will not only recover their jobs but also their lost wages,” he said.

After giving them 30 days notice, clothing maker American Apparel has granted its employees 30 more days for them to come up with documents that prove they are authorized to work in the country. López said this is not enough for many who have to resort to lawyers or advocacy organizations to help them sort through their paperwork. “This can’t be done in 30 nor in 60 days,” he said.

While the current approach is a shift from that of the Bush administration, it doesn’t look that fresh to undocumented workers and their advocates. As we reported last week, the activists’ tone is becoming increasingly impatient with the Obama administration, despite the hopeful notes struck a few months ago when the president was inaugurated.

In an open letter posted on the website of the Southern California Immigration Coalition, workers fired from American Apparel, Overhill Farms and Farmer John’s wrote:

This is clearly the fault of the Obama Administration and only he has the solution in his hands to stop the cheap scapegoating and racial profiling of immigrants that is now sweeping America.

This is certainly not the change we voted for, and not the immigration reform promised by President Barack Obama.

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