Immigrants a Big Part of Economic Engine

Immigration reform is being debated–and protested–across the country as the economy continues to chug along with the aid of millions of illegal immigrant workers.

The latest economic figures show that business activity in the services sector was up in March. The Institute for Supply Management's services index rose to 60.5 in March, from 60.1 in February, as new orders improved and prices paid dropped, Reuters reported. Wall Street economists had predicted a decline to 59.


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"The market was looking for confirmation that there might be a broad slowing of the economy under way, but the data did not reinforce that view," said Tony Crescenzi, chief bond market strategist at Miller Tabak Co.

The service sector makes up about three-quarters of all economic activity. Some service sector jobs, in restaurants for example, are held by illegal immigrants. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2004, that 60 percent of the more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States were here illegally.

On one side of the immigration legislation debate, House lawmakers want fines of $25,000 if businesses hire illegals; on the Senate side, the big fines are likely to be weakened and a guest-worker program is being discussed.

Business Week reported that a compromise would likely require companies to confirm the legal status of all employees and prospective hires. Angelo I. Amador, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's immigration policy director, said that compliance would be a “bureaucratic nightmare” costing employers at least $12 billion.

Employers often don't check their status thoroughly.

Employers must ask for a Social Security number. That number, or proof of legal residence, also goes on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's I-9 form, which is not turned over to government officials, the Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain reported. Some employers do not check the number to see if it is bogus.

If a business did not knowingly recruit illegals, and if the forms are kept on file at the business, the employer does not get into trouble, the newspaper reported.

“This is a long-term issue, because this is a work force issue," Bernadette Budde, senior vice-president of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, told Business Week. "We're going to have to find labor someplace."

Corporate critics take a different view. "The illegal immigration lobby in the U.S. is big business," said Will Adams, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). "They have an addiction to cheap labor."

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