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Posted Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Judge extends block on illegal worker plan
By Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. federal court judge on Monday extended an order preventing the Department of Homeland Security from launching a controversial new program to root out illegal immigrants in the nation's workforce.

Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for Northern California, after a two-hour hearing, extended a temporary restraining order for 10 days while he prepares a decision on the legality of the department's efforts.

Breyer's order also blocked the Social Security Administration from sending out 140,000 letters to employers with employees whose names don't match their Social Security numbers.

An earlier order by the court blocking the government program was to expire on Monday.

Breyer raised a number of issues in the hearing, including the language and legality of the "no-match" letters, possible discrimination in firing illegal Hispanic workers and not other illegal employees, staffing and cost burdens for companies to comply with regulations, and responsibilities and liabilities for employers.

The government's enforcement campaign was rolled out in August after Congress failed to pass a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the proposed program was the most the government could do to fight illegal immigration as long as Congress did not act.

The AFL-CIO, American Civil Liberties Association and other labor and business groups, however, challenged the government in a lawsuit claiming that the rules could discriminate against immigrant employees and place an unfair burden on employers.

Employers currently must verify that their workers are in the United States legally by collecting their Social Security numbers and immigration documents.

Those numbers are checked against the federal government's databases and employers are notified if employees don't match up but they are not required to take action.

Under the new rule, however, employers notified of a mismatch will have 90 days to confirm that an employee is in the country legally or fire him if not.

Employers also could face fines as well as possible criminal charges if they don't comply with the program.

There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

The government has already stepped up raids of companies employing illegal workers, deporting a record 185,421 in fiscal year 2006.

(Reporting by Leonard Anderson)

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