Immigration laws do little to deter illegal immigrants

Editorial

We still don’t know enough to assess certain aspects of last week’s dramatic raids on six meatpacking plants owned by Swift & Co. The raids, conducted in six different states including one near Amarillo, led to 1,282 suspected illegal immigrants being arrested and more than 100 being charged with various serious crimes, including identity theft.

But the raids did point up a growing problem that law enforcement officials in some areas increasingly have confronted: illegal workers using stolen identities as opposed to the false identities many assumed in the past. There’s a big difference.
Federal investigators did not say whether immigrants had stolen the identities themselves or whether they had purchased them from third parties, according to published reports.

So, the raids raise questions: Do they suggest a change in emphasis by immigration officials, to focusing on identity theft and using those investigations to pick up whatever illegal immigrants fall into the net along the way? Are more workplace raids in the offing?

And, does it mean the government’s “Basic Pilot” program, which is supposed to help employers screen out illegal immigrants by electronically verifying Social Security numbers — which Swift has used since 1997 — is useless, or just helpless to discover this new form of identity theft?

There is little doubt that identity theft is a serious problem, and that illegal immigrants have an incentive to engage in it. When laws require that companies see some kind of government or government-approved identification before hiring workers, some workers who lack such identification will find underhanded ways to acquire it.

Even as policing identity theft is important, it’s also important to understand the causes of illegal immigration. One of the reasons so many people move here illegally is that the U.S. economy, with unemployment at historic lows, is clearly able to absorb more foreign-born workers than current quotas permit. Swift, if the arrest figures pan out, has a workforce that includes 18 percent illegal immigrants. This is happening at a time when Mexico’s economy, at least up until this year, has been creating only half as many jobs as workers entering the workforce.

The root problem is the quotas for legal immigrants are too low. These artificially low quotas lead to illegal immigration, which leads to other serious problems like identity theft.

Until America adjusts the quotas to better reflect conditions in the marketplace, illegal immigration, along with deleterious side effects like identity theft, will continue.