Judge halts Social Security “no match” letters

On Aug. 31, Judge Maxine M. Chesney of the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Social Security Administration (SSA) from sending “no-match” letters to companies whose employees’ names do not match the Social Security numbers they used when they applied for their jobs. The letters were scheduled to be sent on Sept. 4 to about 140,000 employers with at least 10 workers whose names and Social Security numbers don’t match. Chesney’s order also prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing a new rule, set to go into effect Sept. 14, under which the affected companies would have to resolve any discrepancies within 90 days or face sanctions, including fines.

A coalition of labor and immigrant rights groups, led by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the AFL-CIO labor federation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), had filed the lawsuit on Aug. 29 against the SSA and DHS, arguing that the Social Security database is full of errors and the new rule would lead to discrimination against documented and US citizen workers and result in unfair firings. After a hearing on Aug. 31, Chesney wrote in her ruling that the plaintiffs “raised serious questions as to whether the new Department of Homeland Security rule is inconsistent with statute.”

“The balance of harms tips sharply in favor of a stay based on plaintiffs’ showing that they and their members would suffer irreparable harm if the rule is implemented,” Chesney wrote. A hearing before District Judge Charles Breyer is scheduled for Oct. 1 to let DHS argue against a request for a permanent injunction to bar implementation of the new policy.

“This is a critical and important first step,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project said of Chesney’s ruling. “It means that workers will not be threatened as a result of an improper rule or inaccurate notices that were about to be sent out.” Marielena Hincapie, director of programs at the National Immigration Law Center, said she was hopeful the court would find at the October hearing that the rule was not valid and that DHS had acted “beyond its legal authority.” (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 1; press release from NILC, ACLU, AFL- CIO, Aug. 31)

From Immigration News Briefs, Sept. 2

See our last post on the immigration crackdown.