Undocumented Immigrants in the US Labor Pool

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are about 11 million of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.A. now. It is roughly 5% of the U.S. workforce. The number of illegal aliens declines during recession and rises during economic growth. The reason for this is quite simple – most undocumented immigrants enter the U.S. looking for a job.

Federal authorities fight illegal immigration by making fewer jobs available for undocumented aliens. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants. It applies to all employers, regardless of size and industry and provides penalties from $250 to $2,000 per each hired undocumented employee. For subsequent undocumented hires penalties could be up to $10,000. If employer demonstrates a “pattern” of this kind of violations, he or she could be subject to criminal liability of $3,000 fine and six months imprisonment.

Under IRCA all employers are required to check job applicants’ documents before hiring. Job applicants should show their passports, birth certificates, green cards, or driver’s licenses to demonstrate that they are authorized to work in the U.S.A. However, employers are not supposed to verify the authenticity of the documents.

Undocumented immigrants are widely engaged in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and home care services. The problem of illegal employment immigration should be resolved by comprehensive immigration reform, which is stalled in Congress for now.

In the meantime the gaps in the employment immigration legislation are filled both on the state and federal levels. Some states adopt their own regulations on certain immigration questions. Such regulations are frequently challenged in courts, since immigration law is considered to be in the exclusive federal jurisdiction.

On the other hand, Obama administration’s initiatives on immigration are challenged too. On November 20, 2014 President Obama issued his Executive Order on Immigration, providing temporarily relief to nearly five million undocumented immigrants. However, Federal District Court judge in Brownsville, TX put the Obama’s Executive Order on hold. The issue will be unfolding further and probably end up in the Supreme Court.