Judge questions legality of 'no match' letters



A federal judge ruled Oct. 1 to uphold a temporary restraining order preventing the Department of Homeland Security from using mismatching Social Security information to pressure employers into firing undocumented workers.

The government agency had planned to send out more than 140,000 "no match" letters informing employers that they must fire workers using false documentation, prove workers are working legally, or face substantial legal consequences.

Many local farmers are also worried about how the new regulations would affect agriculture on the Central Coast.

"The letters would create a big disruption here in the valley and with the people who work in agriculture," said Richard Quandt, president of the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Quandt recently ran a seminar to teach farmers about the regulations and to offer legal advice on how to handle possibly receiving a letter in the future. He said that 160 people attended the seminar in Guadalupe the most people who have ever attended a presentation by the association.

"A lot of the farmers find it hard to talk about the mismatch policy," Quandt said, "because they don't want their names associated with the 'no match' letters.

"Everyone is pretty much on pins and needles now waiting to hear what's going to happen," he said.

After questioning the lawfulness of the proposed governmental crackdown, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer extended the initial injunction made on Aug. 31 by another federal judge. Breyer said he would issue a final ruling in 10 days.

Under the new rules, employers who turn in 10 or more W-2 forms with mismatching Social Security data are issued letters. Upon receiving a letter, employers are given 90 days to resolve the mismatch or risk facing criminal charges for knowingly employing undocumented workers.

According to the Department of Homeland Security website, employers who follow all of the procedures outlined in the letter will "not be liable for discrimination charges brought by the United States."

Several labor unions sued to block the new federal regulations, which were proposed by the Bush administration after Congress failed to pass immigration reform in June.

Union representatives said that the regulations would lead to mass hiring discrimination and cause irreparable damage to several industries, such as agriculture and hospitality.

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