EDITORIAL: A step forward

A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking the Social Security Administration from sending revised “no-match” letters to 140,000 employers, potentially covering the records of approximately 8 million workers. Many feared the letters would create massive economic disruption and injustice.

No-match letters are sent to employers when Social Security numbers submitted for their workers do not match the government’s records. There are many possible reasons for a “no-match” letter like a misspelled name, an unreported name change due to marriage or a typographical error.

Federal judge Maxine Chesney issued the injunction on the petition of the AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, the Alameda County, Calif., and San Francisco Labor Councils and other groups. On Oct. 1, another judge will begin to hear substantive arguments on the suit.

Up to now, no-match letters have instructed employers not to fire or sanction workers for whom letters are received. But employers have used the letters as pretexts to fire workers involved in union activity. Because the letters did not authorize these firings, unions and community groups have been able to get such workers rehired. Some unions got language into their contracts specifying that employers cannot fire a worker because of a no-match letter.

But now, Bush is pushing them to do just that. On Aug. 10, Bush announced that companies that receive no-match letters for their workers must give the workers 90 days to clear up the matter, and if that doesn’t happen they must fire the worker, or face heavy fines and possible criminal prosecution.

Social Security numbers were created to provide economic security for workers and their families in our country, not as a “big brother” database for anti-immigrant law enforcement.

The temporary stay is a good development, but the repressive anti-immigrant tactics of the Bush administration will continue unless public outcry and mass actions in support of immigrant rights are intensified, such as the demonstrations planned for Sept. 12 in Washington, D.C., and others around the country. The injunction needs to become a permanent order.