The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was created to prohibit employers from hiring undocumented immigrants. The act was aimed primarily at businesses that knowingly hired and often exploited illegal foreign workers. The pervasive availability of fraudulent documents, however, also complicated matters for employers who wanted to abide by the regulations. Although employers who unwittingly accept false documentation do not typically face fines or other penalties, they do risk losing their workers. Replacements take time to hire--and they, too, may have falsified documents. As a result, IRCA discouraged collaboration between the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and business: no employer, whether law-abiding or law-breaking, wanted to risk a drop in production.
This lack of cooperation meant that INS enforcement efforts were forced to rely primarily on unannounced visits to employers followed by the immediate arrest and removal of illegal aliens. But agents found that they were often arresting the same unauthorized workers again and again, and that their limited resources were being stretched to the limit by constant opposition from employers. In 1994, however, Dallas INS decided to address these problems by launching Operation Jobs, a program in which the regional office extended the parameters of its involvement to include assisting employers in the search for authorized replacement workers.
Operation Jobs helps employers maintain production schedules while following through on the INS mandate to apprehend illegal aliens. When INS is notified of workers without proper documentation, it waits to arrest the workers in question until after the employer has been able to fill the positions with unemployed U.S. citizens or legal residents. To assist with this process, INS links employers with employment agencies and other, nontraditional sources of workers. In Dallas, the Texas Employment Commission and the departments of Human Services help identify the unemployed and welfare recipients who may be suitable candidates. The Salvation Army, the Dallas Police Department, and the International Rescue Committee also refer members of the City's homeless, troubled youth, and refugee populations.
Operation Jobs realigns the counter-productive incentive structure created by the establishment of the IRCA and the relative economic desirability of immigrant labor. It encourages cooperation, improves performance, and directly reduces unemployment among legal residents. Most employers now realize that there is much to gain through cooperation with INS: they appreciate not only the flexibility of the new procedures, but also the new connections they make with local, reliable sources of labor. The program has also improved INS relations with alien advocacy groups. By providing employment opportunities to lawfully admitted permanent residents, INS has dramatically defused alien advocacy opposition. Immigrant and refugee services and Latino organizations, which have often had poor relations with INS, now work closely with it through Operation Jobs. By reducing private and public opposition, Operation Jobs allows INS to concentrate its resources where they are needed most.
In the first year of the Dallas/Fort Worth area program, more than 500 INS contacts with major employers were initiated and more than 2,500 authorized workers were placed in and trained for positions previously held by illegal aliens. Businesses have benefited not only from a reduction in production delays due to INS intervention, but also from their new, documented workers. In the first two years of the program, the retention rate for workers placed through Operation Jobs was 300 percent higher than the national average. In March 1995, INS decided to capitalize on the success of the Dallas Program and expanded Operation Jobs throughout the 18 states comprising the INS Central Region. Results were almost immediate: in the first two weeks after the expansion, nearly 1,400 additional jobs were made available to unemployed U.S. citizens and legal residents.