Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, a low-wage and immigrant workers center in Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin. Voces de la Frontera organized Wednesday’s rally in Milwaukee.
Immigration rights activists declared Wednesday a national day of action against new immigration measures announced by the Department of Homeland Security last month. One of the rules converts Social Security "no match" letters into a tool of immigration enforcement. The letters are sent to employers when a worker’s stated Social Security number does not match records in government databases. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Meanwhile, immigration rights activists declared Wednesday a national day of action against new immigration measures announced by the Department of Homeland Security last month. One of the rules converts Social Security "no match" letters into a tool of immigration enforcement. "No match" letters are sent to employers when a worker’s stated Social Security number does not match records in government databases. Until now, they were used to notify employees of the benefits they could lose as a result of the discrepancy. Under the new rule, employers are required to fire workers or face fines and criminal charges unless the discrepancy is remedied within 90 days.
Last month, a San Francisco judge ordered a temporary stay on sending out new versions of the letters. A hearing is scheduled for October 1st, but activists warn that some employers are not waiting for the case to be resolved in court before taking action.
On Wednesday, thousands took to the streets in cities across the country against this pending crackdown that threatens the jobs of eight million undocumented workers. And Milwaukee, Wisconsin had the largest turnout with an estimated 10,000 people observing a day of "No work, no school, no purchases."
AMY GOODMAN: To find out more about the crackdown, we go back to Wisconsin Public Broadcasting. Christine Neumann-Ortiz is joining us in Madison. She’s the executive director of Voces de la Frontera, a low-wage and immigrant workers center in Milwaukee and Racine. Welcome to Democracy Now!
CHRISTINE NEUMANN-ORTIZ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the protest yesterday and exactly what this Social Security "no match" list is.
CHRISTINE NEUMANN-ORTIZ: The protest was fantastic. It was organized within a short timeframe, two weeks. And we really made it into a working event. We had several thousands of people who signed up to be part of volunteers of a rapid response teams. In the event that the courts do decide to go through with these letters, then we would have volunteers who would be able to help workers who are going to fight to keep their jobs if an employer decides that they are just going to have a knee-jerk reaction and fire workers right away or try to use it to their advantage in terms of a labor-organizing effort. And so, it’s really a strike fund. So we are really seeing preparing for, both at a local level and at a national level, in terms of escalating economic organizing against this initiative.
There was a very nice description at the beginning. People have to understand that eight million workers will be affected by these letters. An employer will be required to verify legal status and fire them if it cannot be resolved within 90 days. And the consequences of this will be mass layoffs, plant closings, increased racial discrimination and, I believe, obviously a very fundamental shift to a cash economy and the rise of an informal sector in the United States. This will undermine our tax base, our Social Security base. By the government’s own account, immigrant workers — undocumented immigrant workers contribute $7 billion annually, and the suspense file since the ’90s is at $189 billion.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, what is your concern about these "no match" letters. If Social Security claims that an employee — that the Social Security number that they have is not a valid one, isn’t that a question for concern?
CHRISTINE NEUMANN-ORTIZ: Yes. Up 'til now, the Social Security "no match" — Social Security administration has been very clear that they don't serve an immigration enforcement role. And that is what the fundamental change would be. Up 'til now, an employer is required to check for typographical errors, inform the worker, because the whole intent of the Social Security Administration system is to protect the worker to make sure that their contribution is there in case they need it, in case of a death, a disability. But what this does now, it changes the rules and does essentially turn them into an immigration enforcement agency. It's not a role that SSA wants, but that is what the Bush administration ruling signifies. And the fact that the "no match" will affect legal workers, as well, and that is the basis of the lawsuit. And if a legal worker cannot verify or cannot take care of the problem within that timeframe, they will be affected, as well.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But are there significant errors in the Social Security system with the tracking of these numbers?
CHRISTINE NEUMANN-ORTIZ: Yes. There is a lot of errors in the Social Security database. The majority of workers in that database, in the "no match," more than 70 percent are actually legal workers. So, yes, there will be errors.
The problem is, is that for undocumented workers, only through a legalization process can you actually fix the problem and then even tap into your contribution to the Social Security system. As we know, undocumented immigrants contribute to our public benefits system, but receive nothing in kind. So we do need — ultimately, we do need a legalization program that is going to be bring these workers out of this black market system. And then in the future, the other side of the coin is, of course, to deal with the free trade agreements, which have created the conditions of mass poverty that have brought — you know, forced workers to come here under an illegal status. And so, it’s really — that’s the solution we need.
And this strategy will only create increased economic and social crisis. And I do believe that the agenda behind it, in terms of the Bush administration, is to create that crisis to be able to push forward his agenda, which was a broad Bracero-type program, guest worker program, which, sure, would legalize those workers, but create even greater conditions of exploitation. And that’s been the record of certainly the Bracero Program, which was dismantled as part of the civil rights movement, and current guest worker programs and guest worker programs we’ve seen in other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Christine Neumann-Ortiz, I want to thank you very much for being with us, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, low-wage immigrant workers center in Milwaukee and Racine; and in New York, Kayhan Irani, New Jersey-New York regional coordinator for TIGRA, the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action.
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