New civic IDs confuse restaurateurs looking to avoid illegal hires

NEW HAVEN Conn. A new program of awarding residency cards to local inhabitants regardless of their immigration status may be confusing restaurateurs when they attempt to verify workers’ employment eligibility under federal law, according to an industry official.

Yet that complication hasn’t stopped a number of other cities—including New York, San Francisco and Houston—from considering nearly identical initiatives.

Under the ID card program, which was initiated in New Haven in July, 3,000 identification cards have been awarded to local residents, who merely had to make the request in order to receive one. The cards are intended to provide locals who lack state or federal ID materials with a way of proving who they are. That, in turn, should help them in opening bank accounts or availing themselves of other services that require some sort of official identification.

But Simon Flynn, president and chief executive of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said the program could create chaos among industry employers who are not well-versed in immigration law and don’t realize the cards are not proof of job eligibility under federal regulations.

“The city is issuing the cards, which help in establishing identity,” he said. “They’re issued under the guidelines of the federal government and [carried out] by the local government and have pictures and such information as date of birth and so forth. However, they do not establish employment eligibility, which I believe creates a potential for confusion.”

Flynn further said that the mere existence of the cards could puzzle potential employers.

Businesses “are now going to be looking at something they’ve not seen before,” he explained. “It will have the appearance of something that purports to demonstrate employability whereas that is not the case. Certainly it won’t protect employers against no-match,” or the federal government’s strategy of finding employees whose Social Security information does not match up with federal records.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security last month approved the no-match rule, a policy intended to crack down on workers who are in the country illegally. It requires employers to fire employees who cannot clear up discrepancies between their names or Social Security numbers and what’s in the government’s data banks. Employers who did not clear up the discrepancy within 90 days of receiving a no-match letter from the government would have been fined between $250 and $10,000 per undocumented worker. However, the program was halted at least temporarily by a federal court in San Francisco.

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 of New Haven’s 125,000 residents are illegal immigrants, according to local media reports.

Flynn indicated that the identification card program could be confusing for illegal immigrants who hope to land local jobs.

“It almost creates false hope,” he said. “Though it may help with some municipal requirements like housing, it will not help in an employment situation where the employer is knowledgeable. The harsh reality is this doesn’t really do anything to validate their employment status or eligibility.”

Flynn added that the CRA is working on a series of programs to educate its members about the no-match rule in order to lessen the confusion surrounding the enforcement effort. He also said the federal rule supersedes any local initiative, such as the ID card program.

“There is a lot being done on no-match,” he said. “We are in correspondence with our membership to educate them on what will be required of them, the documents that will be required. But concerning the ID card program, our position is it is useful for purposes of identity and nothing further than that.”