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by josh keller · Published · Updated
No brown skins. (Hispanic Americans and the 1986 Immigration Reform Act)
The Economist (US) February 3, 1990 No brown skins SAN FRANCISCO HISPANIC Americans were against the 1986 Immigration Reform Act; they feared it would give employers an excuse not to hire people who looked or sounded Hispanic. They were right, it seems. The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission reports that the law, which is supposed to deter illegal immigration, has created “a widespread pattern and practice of discrimination” against legal immigrants.
The law fines or imprisons those employers who are caught hiring illegal immigrants. Nervous employers are playing safe by brushing aside official work permits and declining to hire people with brown skins and Latin names and accents. The law, which was supposed to protect people against this happening, created a special counsel to hear complaints and to act on them. But there is just one special-counsel office, and that is in Washington, DC. Few immigrants even learn of its existence, let alone approach it with complaints.
In addition, reports the Californian commission (an independent agency established 30 years ago to protect civil rights in jobs and housing), the Immigration and Nationalisation Service (INS) issues such a variety of different immigrant classifications that employers cannot be familiar with what is official and what is not. The confusion is compounded by the amnesty that the law gave to illegal immigrants who could prove that they had lived in the United States since 1981, plus the special rules for agricultural workers. The sorting-out of all this leaves the immigration service snowed under with forms and letters of work-approval. go to site illegal immigration statistics
Although the INS claims to have spent $2m on educational material explaining the law, the explanation, the commission says sternly, is “inadequate…incomplete and confusing”. As remedy, the commission proposes a temporary moratorium on employer sanctions until the backlog of appeals for work authorisation is cleared, the educational material is rewritten and special counsel offices are opened around the country.
The California report is important since about half the immigrants who come to the United States seeking work authorisation come to California. But it is only one in a series of reports on the effect of the 1986 law. A New York task force is due to report to Governor Mario Cuomo soon. And in a month or two, the General Accounting Office (GAO), which was officially charged to monitor the consequences of the immigration controls, will be issuing its findings. Last year the GAO reported that about 16% of some 3.3m employers who were aware of the new rules did discriminate against foreign-looking applicants. The report called for a more co-ordinated effort to educate the public but, unlike the California commission, it did not declare that a “pattern” of discrimination had resulted from the act. web site illegal immigration statistics
If the GAO now finds such a pattern, it would trigger changes in the law. Congress would have 30 days to consider lifting sanctions against employers. But if the GAO reports that it has found no serious discrimination, the provisions in the law that are supposed to protect workers against bias would be removed. In any event, the GAO report will set off a fiery debate in Congress.
Part of the debate is whether the law’s strictness has in fact cut down illegal immigration. Statistics from the INS suggest that it has. In 1986 1.6m people were caught trying to enter from Mexico; in 1989, with more border guards, the total had shrunk to 850,000 people. Either they are getting cleverer at evading the guards, or the law, despite its unfair side-effects, is working.