WASHINGTON — Employers who hire illegal immigrants can be fined, but the Obama administration warned this week that they also can be fined for asking legal immigrants to show their green card before hiring them.
The Justice Department's civil rights division sued the Maricopa County Community Colleges in Arizona, seeking damages from schools for "document abuse discrimination."
Prior to this year, the local colleges in the Phoenix area asked job applicants who were not U.S. citizens to show a driver's license, a Social Security card and their "permanent resident card," commonly called a green card.
The Justice Department said a valid driver's license and a Social Security card are usually sufficient to show that a person is authorized to work. Requesting a green card amounts to "immigration-related employment discrimination," said Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Federal law forbids treating "authorized workers differently during the hiring process based on their citizenship status," Perez said. He said the department's Office of Special Counsel will bring legal actions against employers who impose "unnecessary and discriminatory hurdles to employment for work-authorized non-citizens."
The suit could affect employers across the nation.
"Employers are getting very mixed messages from the government," said Jessica Vaughn, a policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies.
On the one hand, employers have been told they need to do more to verify that their workers are legal and authorized to work in the United States. Federal immigration law says hiring "an unauthorized alien" can result in fines of up to $3,000 per worker. However, the same law bars employers from requesting "more or different documents" than are needed to prove a legal status.