No Work, Pedro

THE federal General Accounting Office is expected this week to release a report finding widespread hiring discrimination against alien or alien-appearing workers. The bias, the report will probably conclude, is a direct result of legislated sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens. The sanctions are a central feature - along with amnesty for some resident aliens and tighter border policing - of 1986 immigration-reform legislation that was intended to stem the flow of illegal aliens into the United States in search of jobs.

The GAO report will be just the latest in a succession of studies that found a high incidence of job discrimination based on national origin. To avoid heavy fines under the '86 law, some employers are cautiously refusing to hire Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic applicants, including many who are legally entitled to live and work in the US. Earlier studies by GAO and by task forces in California and New York also found evidence of national-origin hiring bias to avoid the sanctions.

The GAO reports are mandated under the ``sunset'' provisions in the act. Congress must reexamine sanctions in light of the GAO findings and adjust or even - as the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups urge - repeal them.

Discrimination against workers who simply look or sound like aliens is wrong and must be effectively combated. But repealing sanctions against employing illegal aliens in order to reduce discrimination makes as little sense as legalizing drugs to end drug trafficking. In each case, surrender is disguised as solution.

It took six years of hard dickering to enact the reform bill, and Congress shouldn't hastily jettison a key element. Rather, Congress should stiffen enforcement of the law's antidiscrimination provisions by, among other things, increasing the resources of the Justice Department's Office of the Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices. Also, a greater effort must be made to educate employers. Much of the reported discrimination has been by good-faith employers who find the law's document-verification requirements confusing and are properly wary of document fraud.

Further, the administration should pursue efforts to create a national, uniform work-authorization document. This needn't be a national ``ID card,'' as civil libertarians are rightly concerned about, but simply a computer-readable paper establishing the holder's work eligibility, without other identifying information. With safeguards, such a form could be made no more intrusive of individual privacy than a Social Security card.

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