February 23, 2007

Getting Serious About Employer Enforcement?

The Bush administration completed another high-profile investigation into the employment of illegal immigrants, this time by a nation-wide services company with clients in 17 states. The raids hit 63 businesses and arrested over 200 illegal aliens, but it also resulted in heavy felony indictments of the employer:

Three top executives at a nationwide cleaning service were named in a federal grand jury indictment unsealed yesterday, charged with conspiracy, fraud and tax crimes in an ongoing investigation that has netted more than 200 illegal aliens who worked as janitors.

The illegal aliens, all of whom were employed by Florida-based cleaning contractor Rosenbaum-Cunningham International Inc. (RCI), were arrested in 17 states at 63 locations -- including the Hard Rock Cafe, ESPN Zone, Planet Hollywood, Dave & Busters and the House of Blues restaurants.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said RCI co-owners Richard M. Rosenbaum, 60, of Longwood, Fla., and Edward Scott Cunningham, 43, of West Palm Beach, Fla., and the firm's controller, Christina Flocken, 59, also of Longwood, were named in the 23-count indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The White House seems rather motivated to burnish its credentials as tough on illegal alien employment, one of the key concerns of the conservative base. Over the last year, while immigration reform got debated and eventually derailed in Congress, the ICE has conducted three major raids that netted almost 3,000 illegals and resulted in employer sanctions. They practically cleared out Swift's meatpacking plants after the feds determined that thirty percent of their workforce used fraudulent identification to gain employment. At IFCO Systems NA, seven executives face criminal prosecution for their conspiracy to use illegals to save a few bucks.

Why all of the effort now? The Bush administration wants comprehensive immigration reform, not the exclusive border-security approach favored by conservatives. In order to demonstrate that a comprehensive approach will work, the White House wants to demonstrate that it can wield effective disincentives on the employment side that will curtail illegal immigration. Bush wants to work with the Democratic Congress to get a solution in place this year, before the 2008 election cycle for Congress heats up too much to allow moderation to win the day on either side.

Unfortunately for Bush, Congress isn't playing to the moderates on this issue. Ted Kennedy, who partnered with presidential aspirant John McCain last year for a compromise package on immigration reform, has fashioned a different approach this year -- one that more aggressively opens opportunities for citizenship to those already here illegally. The Democrats have refused to work cooperatively with the Republicans on this bill, with one exception: John McCain. That hasn't filled conservatives with much confidence that any of their concerns will be addressed in the final bill.

John McCain had better take care at this juncture of his career. He wants to paint himself as the real conservative in the GOP race for the Presidential nomination. He already has big credibility problems with the base. If he winds up endorsing an amnesty bill with Ted Kennedy's name on it, he can absolutely bid his Presidential aspirations farewell. All of the frog-marches currently being conducted by the Bush administration won't mean spit if illegals get a free ride to citizenship in this Congress with his midwifery of an amnesty bill.


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