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Sanchez: The US needs better immigration policy to address labor issues

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There are times when the headlines couldn’t be more illustrative, more predictive for what’s ahead. If one sees them as a continuum.

“Biden Ends Workplace Immigration Raids, Reversing Trump Policy.”

“Americans Are Quitting Jobs At Record Rates.”

“Some People Are Optimistic About Social Security; But It’s Shrinking As The Number Of Retirees Grows.”

The crux of the first one is this: The Biden administration is seeking immigrant laborer whistle blowers, dangling the possibility of protection from deportation, in exchange for intel on their unscrupulous employers.

On the surface, this sounds good. But let’s scratch a bit deeper, which is where the relevance of the second and third headlines tie in.

The administration wants to go after companies that might be underpaying workers by hiring those who aren’t authorized to work in the U.S. and otherwise treating employees poorly with an eye on profits.

To start, expecting workers to out their employers is asking a lot. Remember, generally, we’re not talking about senior level Facebook employees who might appear with counsel alongside as they address Congress.

These are low-wage workers who are often subject to the whims of bosses wielding great control over their lives. Time will tell if the Biden administration can successfully put protocols in place to protect them. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are tasked with proposing new ways of operating within 60 days.

Furthermore, in terms of the nation’s own economic sustainability, this is just another winding sideroad, a diversion from the real issue.

Neon red warning signs are flashing about unfilled jobs across many employment sectors, baby boomers are retiring in droves to claim their hard-earned Social Security benefits and others are voluntarily exiting the job market, some reassessing their work lives due to the stresses of the pandemic.

We need more workers, not fewer. That’s a demographic certainty that is agnostic to who is in the White House. And one surefire way to find them is through immigration.

The U.S. must form an immigration system that nimbly reacts to market needs and establishes a system for legal entry with a comprehensive and fast vetting process for crucial positions that keep the nation running.

The fact that we do not have this system in place is an epic failure that Congress and both Republican and Democratic administrations have allowed to continue, for decades.

None of these points were addressed with rolling out of the new whistleblower approach, which isn’t even a novel idea.

“We will not tolerate unscrupulous employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities, or impose unsafe working conditions,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a news release. ”Employers engaged in illegal acts compel the focus of our enforcement resources. By adopting policies that focus on the most unscrupulous employers, we will protect workers as well as legitimate American businesses.”

Sure it’s an improvement over the Rambo-style, surprise inspections of workplaces, where immigrants go scurrying to avoid being caught, which was the type of workplace enforcement [that was] preferred under former President Donald Trump.

Far more complicated and less adrenaline-filled will be the paperwork hunt to prove that a business knowingly hired laborers who didn’t have the legal clearance to earn their paychecks. That type of work involves chases through a company’s personnel files, interviewing human resources and hiring managers and yes, comparing their version of events with what the actual employees say.

More than anything this new policy is just another step to refocus immigration enforcement. Call it more Obama era, less Trump. Previous announcements pivoted toward a heightened focus on those who could pose a national security threat, versus the person working without authorization at a packing plant.

Vice President Kamala Harris is increasingly being pressured, as she should be, to be a voice for other immigrants. As the daughter of an immigrant, she’s well-suited to speak up.

Given that nativist attacks, preaching through an America-first tunnel vision view is already being geared up by Republicans for 2022. Again, time is of the essence.

Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at msanchezcolumn@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn

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