Court blocks plan to force firing of illegal workers

SAN FRANCISCO A federal court here has halted the Bush administration's plan to crack down on illegal immigration by forcing restaurants and other businesses to fire employees whose Social Security information varies from government records.

The temporary injunction prevented the Social Security Administration from sending so-called "no match" letters starting today to employers whose newly hired staffers have provided a name or Social Security number that differs from what's in the agency's database. The employees would have had 90 days to rectify the discrepancies or face dismissal.

The order issued by U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney also blocks a plan by the Department of Homeland Security to fine businesses up to $10,000 for each no-match employee they refuse to fire. The new Home Security policy was to take effect Sept. 14.

About 140,000 no-match letters were expected to be sent during the next two months to businesses with at least 10 employees. The plan is aimed at catching immigrants who use bogus Social Security information to secure jobs. About 1.4 million foodservice employees are believed to be illegal aliens.

Aplea for a permanent injunction against the Homeland Security plan is scheduled to be heard starting Oct. 1. The plan has been challenged in a lawsuit filed last Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a coalition of labor and immigrant rights groups.