Press Release

Call to Repeal IRCA Employer Sanctions Provisions

NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION: Thursday, September 22, 12:00 PM, 26 Federal Plaza, New York City.

Break the Chains, a national alliance of African-American, labor, faith-based, and immigrant groups, is calling on Congress to oppose new guestworker programs and to repeal the “employer sanctions” provisions of the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986 (IRCA), which undermines working conditions for U.S. workers. As Congress prepares to discuss various legislative immigration reforms, the Alliance will launch its new legislative initiative to repeal the employer sanctions provisions.

“The 1986 law is a modern-day slave law that hurts all working people. We are proposing legislation to repeal this anti-worker and anti-immigrant law in order to pave the way for creating good jobs with good working conditions for all,” states Guillermo Glenn, of Asociación de Trabajadores Fronterizos (El Paso, TX). “Its significant that U.S. citizens and immigrants are uniting in support of this reform.”

According to Nancy Eng, of the Chinese Staff & Workers Association (New York City), “Employer sanctions have undercut working conditions for all American workers by creating an underclass of undocumented workers who have no rights and are forced to work under slave-like conditions, for pay that no American worker can survive on.” She notes, “the law has expanded the underground economy to the point that law-abiding businesses cannot compete unless they too hire and exploit undocumented workers, directly or through shadowy subcontractors.”

Although other factors, such as economic conditions in other countries, have contributed to the increase in undocumented immigration, the internal demand for cheap labor in the U.S. has been a major factor. Since the passage of IRCA, the demand for undocumented labor has expanded enormously. The employer sanctions provisions, which prohibit the knowing employment of unauthorized workers and obligate employers to verify work authorization status of all new hires, separated out undocumented immigrants and created a new underclass, making it one of the main causes of almost ten-fold increase in the undocumented population over the past two decades.

Professor Michael Wishnie of New York University School of Law, a labor and immigration expert who has represented numerous low-wage workers and now assists Break the Chains Alliance, stated, “Employer sanctions is a failed experiment and must be abandoned. The law grants coercive power to the worst employers, stoking the demand for undocumented workers, undermining working conditions for others, and penalizing law-abiding employers who play by the rules.”

“Although Congress intended IRCA to deter undocumented immigration by making it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers, this law instead has made it desirable for employers to hire undocumented workers,” stated Tosh Anderson, of the New York Unemployment Law Project. “Employers know they can get away with paying undocumented workers next to nothing since the law treats these workers as criminals,” states Mr. Anderson. “The impact of this has been to lower working conditions and exacerbate unemployment for documented workers and citizens. Guestworker programs will only make the problem worse, by keeping undocumented workers dependent on their employers for their immigration status.”

In recent Congressional hearings, the government has also claimed that Employer Sanctions are a necessary step in order to maintain homeland security. “Not only have employer sanctions increased undocumented immigration, but they have created fear and silence in communities of undocumented,” stated Karah Newton of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (New York City). “How can we have security, when these communities are too afraid to even report what they see?”

African-American, labor, and immigrant groups are uniting as part of the alliance. Kermit Moore of the Mississippi Workers Center For Human Rights, another member of the Alliance, explains, “This is not about scapegoating immigrants. Its about holding the government responsible for massively expanding the demand for undocumented labor through the employer sanctions law. What this law does is it creates an underclass that’s used by employers to pit immigrants and U.S. citizens against each other. Our African-American communities suffer from massive unemployment, while many undocumented work in these same communities under slave-like conditions. Look at what has happened here in the South, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While the poor African-American communities are suffering horribly, undocumented immigrants, some of whom were brought in through temporary worker programs, are going to do the worst of the clean-up. Meanwhile, undocumented residents are being left out of the relief process and denied assistance. Every worker loses out and our communities get divided.”

The Alliance is also calling for an on-going adjustment of status for undocumented workers, as well as reform and stronger enforcement of labor laws. It does no good to legalize one group of people, but criminalize all those who come after. Undocumented workers who work for a certain period of time, who have spent years contributing to this country, should not be treated as outsiders. Only when we all have equal rights as human beings, can we unite to make this a stronger nation. Break the Chains is a broad alliance of community-based organizations that have come together to address the deteriorating working and living conditions faced by all working people. The alliance calls for the repeal of IRCA’s employer sanctions provisions and supports measures that allow undocumented immigrants to adjust their status and that strengthen labor law and its enforcement.