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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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That's exactly what the plaintiffs - a collection of labor unions and industry groups - argued in their suit against the feds. The new rules would create exorbitant new expenses, they alleged, and they would result in the termination of authorized workers, both citizens and immigrants alike.

During arguments in the case, The government recognized that its records are rife with errors. (The hell you say!) Under the new rules, an employer would not be able to accept a document containing a disputed Social Security number. So even if the fault lay with the SSA, the employee couldn't maintain his employment based on the disputed, but accurate, number.

In the absence of any other kind of proof, the employer would have to let the employee go rather than face criminal charges for "knowingly" employing an "illegal" worker.

Judge Breyer agreed with the plaintiffs' arguments, finding that they raised sufficient questions about whether the DHS had followed legal requirements in creating the new rules.

Since the plaintiffs had also demonstrated that the current rules would result in irreparable harm to innocent employers and workers, the judge held that a preliminary injunction was appropriate.

Even though the group of plaintiffs consists mostly of labor unions (such as the AFL-CIO), restaurant industry groups and agricultural interests, the technology industry stands to benefit greatly from the decision as well.

It's common knowledge that the US tech sector relies heavily on talent imported from abroad. And with the current sorry state of enrollment of US kids in computer science and engineering programs, that reliance is set to expand into the future.

Safe Harbor from the letter storm

Given that much of the tech sector depends on immigrant labor, the new DHS rules could seriously impact companies' bottom lines if the injunction doesn't hold.

Even assuming that all of the immigrant tech workers are in the country legally, the number of potential errors in the SSA records could still set off a flood of No Match letters to tech companies, which would then have to put HR procedures in place for dealing with the letters to take advantage of the safe harbor in the new regulations.

Such processes rarely come cheap, and even a perfect process can't protect workers who are the victims of SSA screw-ups. The last thing companies want to do is fire a lead project engineer just because an SSA employee entered that employee's social security number into the agency's system improperly, but that might end up being a common result if the DHS rules go into effect.

For the moment, however, tech companies appear to be off the hook.

But for the government, tomorrow is a new day, a new court - and possibly a new result.®

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