One of my last assignments for Restaurant Ray was cataloging Social Security numbers from employees at two restaurants.
"You don't have to verify them," Restaurant Ray told me. "Just collect them, stick them in a binder and put the binder on that shelf."
When I said, "But ... ", Restaurant Ray said it's the government responsibility to verify whether the Social Security numbers were real or bogus.
I knew about the "no-match" letters that the government would occasionally send employers. I have no idea whether Restaurant Ray ever received a no-match letter from the government.
It's easy, on the streets of San Jose and other areas with immigrant populations, to buy fake identification. "Micas" is the Spanish code word, as I found out from some of Restaurant Ray's cooks when he asked me to ask them where his handyman could score a fake ID.
I did what I was told. I'd already figured that many of the employees' Social Security numbers didn't match their real identities. Saul, Miguel, Moises, Ulysses, Roberto, Elizabet and two dishwashers named Fabian ... none of them got their papers stamped at Ellis Island. I saw taxes deducted from their paychecks. I doubt they ever filed returns. This was another of those wink-and-go-on moments in life.
This one, however, isn't:
American businesses will be forced to fire employees whose Social Security numbers do not match government records. The new rule, imposed by the Bush administration on Friday, takes effect in 30 days.
"We strike at that magnet" of jobs, the administration's chief of Homeland Security said Friday, announcing sweeping border enforcement.
The biggest impacts are predicted in agriculture and service industries such as restaurants, hotels and nursing homes.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the Bush administration's new rule "will require employers to fire employees unable to clear up problems with their Social Security numbers 90 days after they've been notified or face sanctions and a fine of at least $2,200 for a first offense. Up until now, employers have routinely ignored what are called no-match letters."
My father came here from Mexico on a tourist pass in the 1950s. He stayed illegally until he filled out the right number of forms 30 years later. In between, he built a business. He paid taxes. He raised a family. He's about as American as it gets, amigo.
Without guys like my dad, Saul, Miguel, Moises, Ulysses, Roberto, Elizabet and two dishwashers named Fabian, where are we going to find the bested damed chile verde in this whole stinkin' country?
Anyone care to add Hon, Tran, Malick, Ahmed or Nimish to the list?
What is that taste in the melting pot today?