Judge Blocks No-Match Letter Program, Cites 'Serious Questions'

October 10, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Declaring that "plaintiffs have raised serious questions" about a Bush administration program cracking down on employers giving work to illegal immigrants, a federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction blocking the plan.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California put up the roadblock to the “no match” letter program as part of a lawsuit by the AFL-CIO, American Civil Liberties Union, and other labor groups challenging the enforcement effort.

Under the program, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would send joint letters warning businesses they will face penalties if they keep workers whose Social Security numbers do not match their names. If workers were unable to clear up problems with their Social Security numbers within 90 days, they would have to be terminated or their employer could face criminal fines and other sanctions.

“As demonstrated by plaintiffs, the government’s proposal to disseminate no-match letters affecting more than eight million workers will, under the mandated time line, result in the termination of employment to lawfully employed workers,” Breyer wrote in his 22-page ruling. “This is so because, as the government recognizes, the no-match letters are based on SSA records that include numerous errors….if allowed to proceed, the mailing of no match letters, accompanied by DHS’s guidance letter, would result in irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers.”

The letters were originally supposed to be mailed starting in September, but the program has been blocked because of the lawsuit, which claimed the plan would put a heavy burden on employers and could cause many authorized immigrants and U.S. citizens to lose their jobs over innocent paperwork problems (See Judge Extends Restraining Order on “No Match” Letters ).

Civil liberties organizations joining the suit pointed out the rule would likely lead to the violation of the rights of many legal workers who might have made a mistake they could not correct before the deadline.

Lawyers for the federal government countered by arguing that the rule clarified employers’ obligations under immigration law and gave them guidelines on how to handle mismatched records. Until now, the Social Security Administration regularly notified employers of discrepancies, but employers were not required to act.

The Breyer ruling is here .