In the initial debate over the Bush-Kennedy immigration deal, attention has focused on how this complex bill will impact immigration-law-breaking workers -- the supply side of the unskilled labor market.
A simpler approach that could greatly clarify the national discussion over immigration would narrowly, but remorselessly, target immigration-law-breaking employers -- the demand side.
Let me give you some perspective on who these scofflaws are.
There is an Illinois employer that over five years filed 131,991 inaccurate documents with the Internal Revenue Service. That's right: 131,991.
Now, you might think law enforcement would be swarming all over this employer. You would be wrong, however.
You see, the 131,991 false documents were W-2 forms reporting taxes paid on behalf of workers whose names and Social Security Numbers (SSNs) did not match. The Social Security Administration (SSA) inspector general has told Congress that illegal-alien workers are "the primary cause" cause for this type of "non-match" W-2.
According to an October 2004 report by the SSA inspector general ("Employers With the Most Suspended Wage Items in the 5-Year Period 1997 Through 2001"), the Illinois employer with 131,991 "non-match" W-2s was the national champion for that period. But there were other employers in the same league.
A Texas employer, for example, filed 108,302 "non-match" W-2s in that period -- when a man named George Bush happened to be Texas governor. Indeed, according the inspector general, 15 employers in Gov. Bush's Texas ranked among the Top 100 for filing "non-match" W-2s. From 1997 to 2001, these Texas employers sent the IRS a combined 401,167 "non-match" W-2s, reporting $1.7 billion in wages paid to workers using someone else's -- or a phony -- SSN.
Hiring illegal aliens was not a small business when George Bush governed Texas. It was big business.
So, why didn't the IRS do anything about it? The 1986 immigration amnesty bill empowered the IRS to fine employers for filing inaccurate W-2s. A 1989 amendment increased the fines, allowing the IRS to assess up to $50 for every bad W-2, with total annual fines capped at $100,000 for small businesses and $250,000 for larger businesses.
In 2004, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) discovered that the IRS had never enforced this law. "IRS does not have any information documenting that any employer has ever been assessed such a penalty," said GAO.
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