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Ruling allows US tech firms to dodge an immigration bullet

Feds still have plenty of ammo, though

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Technology firms in the US just won a last-minute reprieve from a fusillade of new, and potentially devastating, immigration rules.

But the government is almost certain to reload and try again in a higher court.

Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction on Wednesday that put a halt to a new tag-team effort by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to correct errors in the Social Security records hunt down workers possibly in the country illegally.

This preliminary injunction will stop the federal agencies' plans for the time being, but the US government has the option to appeal the order to the Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit.

Then, even if the Ninth Circuit upholds the injunction, the parties must go to trial over the merits of the case to determine if the preliminary injunction should become permanent.

Without wading too far into the Kafkaesque legal swamp surrounding both Social Security and immigration issues in the US, here is a rundown of what the DHS and SSA did and/or proposed to do:

No Match

The DHS recently began to promulgate new rules and procedures surrounding so-called "No Match" letters issued by the SSA. The SSA normally sends these letters out to employers after the agency notices a discrepancy between the Social Security records that an employer's records for an employee and the agency's own information.

These discrepancies cause the SSA to suspend posting the mismatched worker's earnings to their retirement credit until the confusion gets sorted out. The letters ordinarily act as simple requests for more data so that the SSA can sort out the problem and resume collecting the employee's earnings if everything is on the up and up.

A few months ago, however, the DHS tried to change the rules of the game by modifying a regulation related to criminal violations for knowingly employing illegal aliens. The new regulation added the No Match letters to a list of items that provide constructive knowledge of an employee's unauthorized status.

Thus, if an employer received one of these No Match letters and did nothing, they would be criminally liable if the worker in question turned out to be illegal.

The DHS did give employers a way out: after receipt of a No Match letter the employer must check internal records and attempt to discover the source of the mismatch within 30 days. If the employer's records are correct, the employee then has 90 days to clear up the confusion with the SSA. Sounds simple, right?

There is a catch. The SSA planned to send out 140,000 such letters, covering roughly eight million employees.

Them's a lot of records to check in 30 days.

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