NOTE: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD NEVER MAKE ANY HIRING DECISIONS WITHOUT CONSULTING THE APPROPRIATE FINANCIAL AND LEGAL AUTHORITIES.
Prominent reporter Jose Antonia Vargas (@joseiswriting) recently confessed, via an in-depth article in The New York Times Magazine, that for the past 18 years he has lived and worked in the United States as an illegal immigrant.
Vargas’ goal was to spark discussion about immigration issues, and to promote the DefineAmerican campaign. Much of the reaction, however, has centered on the issues of risk and liability for his current and past employers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times.
Should employers, whether they’re deceived or fail to be diligent, be sanctioned by the government for hiring illegal workers?
Regardless of your moral or justice stance, the fact is that in The United States, the large majority of employers of illegal aliens are never fined or prosecuted.
The illegal workforce represents approximately 9% of American GDP, and is a significant source of unskilled labour, particularly in the restaurant and construction industries. Some surveys report that as many as 1 in 3 dishwashers at American restaurants are working illegally.
The widespread availability of fraudulent documents, combined with the online E-Verify system’s limited access and countless implementation problems, means that for many employers, determining who is legally eligible for employment is an often insurmountable hurdle.
Of course, it’s in your best interest to make some effort at verifying the legal status of your prospective employees. How much of an effort is a difficult decision, and it’s yours to make.
Illegal workers often suffer from lower wages for equal work, limited job security, insecure living conditions, and restricted access to social services. Abusive employers are known to only report illegal status when staff begin to make demands for equal treatment, overtime pay, or union representation. That’s the bigger issue here.
Once you’ve hired an illegal worker—whether you do so knowingly or not—you should commit yourself to treating them like every other member of your staff. Obey labour laws. Follow HR best practices. Don’t terminate them without just cause or compensation. Never use their race or immigration status as a bargaining chip.
The rule of law is important in any society, but in today’s America, illegal immigrants are important too. Treating everyone justly and equitably, within the reasonable confines of the law, is not only your obligation as a human resource professional, it’s your obligation as a human being.
If everyone puts a greater focus on the universal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we’ll all be better off.