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ICE is right to go after employers on illegal workers
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There is a line in the illegal immigration debate that goes something like this: Illegal workers pay tons of taxes that help subsidize the rest of us because they can’t benefit from them such as Social Security tax.

This is pitched out to convince those who believe illegal workers are a massive tax burden especially in this day and age of shrinking revenue and government budget cuts.

So it may come as a surprise to some about the case of Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler Restaurants in Southern California and Arizona.

This past week federal agents raided 15 of the chain’s restaurant locations, detained 40 suspected illegal immigrants, arrested the owners, and also arrested the firm’s outside bookkeeper.

The federal indictment that triggered the raids charges that the firm kept two separate payrolls - one for legal workers and the other for illegals. The illegals were paid under the table without any deduction of employment or income taxes. The illegals worked in the kitchens while the legal workers were the servers.

 John Morton, chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was quoted as saying, “This is a very significant case with national ramifications.”

No kidding.

The federal indictment noted the chain employed about 360 illegal workers and underreported - and failed to pay - at least $400,000 in Medicare and Social Security taxes alone.

This means the much ballyhooed “boost” Social Security supposedly gets from illegal workers though payment of Social Security taxes they can’t ever collect may be just hot air.

One out of every 15 federal investigations conducted of worksites about the possible illegal use of undocumented workers resulted in an arrest of an employer. Unfortunately, there were just 2,746 worksite cases in 2010 translating into 187 arrests.

There are that many brick and mortar employers in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop alone.

On the flip side, that is up significantly from 2005 when there were 495 worksite investigations resulting in three arrests.

ICE officials indicated the Chuy’s case signals a trend of employers going to great lengths to hide illegal workers.

The shift in policy of prosecuting employers - which should also apply to te heads of mega-corporations such as Wal-Mart when such practices are found within their companies - is the only way to curb this abuse.

The reason is simple. It is an effective way of squeezing out more profit from a business. Where do you think the $400,000 plus went that was supposed to go to the Social Security and Medicare? It either went into the owner’s pockets or gave them an illegal and unfair edge over the competition. Either which way, the federal government has a moral and statutory obligation to prosecute such abuse to the fullest. After all, if they foist a mandatory tax collection and verification of employment on law-abiding taxpayers then everyone should be held to the same standard.

Prison time and fines that take corporate bonuses and more are the only real sticks that the federal government can use to stem such abuse. Send a Fortune 500 CEO to prison and fine him or her $10 million if their company did anything similar to what Chuy’s did certainly would send a message.

It would make compliance to federal laws a top priority. It might even stop them from putting unreasonable pressure on mid-management and store management staff to find whatever ways they can to squeeze expenses.

In the Wal-Mart case from a few years back, its stores in the South were using illegal to clean stores because they worked cheaper. It took a federal investigation to get them to stop - at least at those stores at a particular point in time. The fine, though, was paltry. At under $100,000 it didn’t even cover a sliver of the expense of the prosecution.

Congress needs to give ICE the ability to retrieve all of its expenses plus a punitive fine that is significant in nature. The best way to do that is to cover the bill by seizing the ill-gotten gains including the big bucks CEOs get who condone such illegal behavior on the part of management by the culture they foster.

We don’t need new laws or new policies regarding immigration to address the issue.

The first step to obtain real immigration reform is to enforce the laws we have and not just against an extremely small number of firms.

Then we need to put in place an amnesty program that illegals in this country can apply for and have to meet to stay here at the same time we put in a guest worker program that is effective.

Once that is done, any illegal that is found regardless of which part of the globe they hail from is treated for what they are - illegal invaders whose very presence breaks our laws.