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Ruling Buoys No-Match Critics

Buoyed by a federal judge’s ruling yesterday blocking the use of Social Security “no-match” letters for immigration enforcement, labor and immigrant advocates will rally tomorrow to call on SSA to stop sending the letters altogether (Friday, October 12, 12:30 p.m., Federal Plaza, Adams and Dearborn).

Yesterday’s ruling underscored the position of opponents of no-match letters, that the Social Security data base is “way too fraught with errors to be used for any kind of immigration enforcement,” said Mark Meinster of the United Electrical Workers.

Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California blocked a new Department of Homeland Security rule requiring employers who receive no-match letters — indicating a discrepancy between an employee’s name and social security number — to fire workers who couldn’t themselves correct errors in Social Security records.

Such errors are common, often relating to name changes (which are not reported to Social Security) and clerical errors. A recent report by the agency’s inspector general found 70 percent of discrepancies in Social Security records involve U.S. citizens.

Many legal workers have no idea how to begin correcting bureacratic errors related to no-match letters, said Rosie Carasco of the Latino Organization of the Southwest.

At tomorrow’s rally, several workers will speak about “all the hoops they had to jump through in order to fix the problem and keep their jobs,” said Tim Bell of the Chicago Workers Collaborative.

They will march on the Social Security office across the street, reiterating the request of a delegation a month ago to meet with the regional commissioner. That delegation has received no response to that request, Bell said.

Similar actions are planned across the country, he said.

Originally intended as a method of cleaning up Social Security’s records, no-match letters have become a tool for “bad apple” employers, Meinster said, noting the letters themselves state that they are not to be used as the basis of adverse actions against employees.

“Typically you don’t see no-match letters being used by employers until workers stand up for basic human rights, for the right to organize or to oppose discriminiation, or just to demand bathroom breaks,” he said.

Meinster said UE instituted a no-match hotline (888-DIGNIDAD) in September which has received about 300 calls since then.

In one case, workers at Ballco Manufacturing in Aurora called when they heard rumors that Mexican workers were going to be fired, to be replaced by whites, he said. On September 18, eight workers were told they were being fired because of a no-match; the next day, 15 others who walked off the job in protest were also fired.

When an attorney for the workers looked at their personnel files, none were subjects of no-match letters, Meinster said. “It’s an example of employers using just the threat of no-match letters as a pretext for firing workers for other reasons,” he said.

Meinster said the workers have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the labor board, and the Illinois attorney general.

With the new DHS rule requiring employers to fire workers cited in no-match letters blocked, SSA should consider ending the letters entirely, Meinster said. “They create more problems than they solve,” he said. “There are better tools to update the data base.”

“Social Security was created to care for the welfare of families,” said Carasco. It shouldn’t be in the business of immigration enforcement and getting workers fired, she said.

Meanwhile, the state is studying a DHS lawsuit filed last month challenging a new state law blocking Illinois employers from participating in a voluntary DHS Internet program to check the immigration status of job applicants.

The state law requires a 99 percent accuracy rate when applicants request DHS investigations into initial findings of noncompliance, as well as protections for the rights of applicants, before Illinois businesses can sign up.

According to the state, DHS investigations into noncompliance findings currently have a 50 percent error rate.



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