Now that employers are starting to get tough on checking that employees' social security numbers match their names, some employees that are illegally in the country are getting around that by simply making sure that their names actually do match their numbers. How do they do it? They steal (or borrow since there may be some consent involved) the identity of a legal worker.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement just conducted a sweep of five chicken plants yesterday and arrested 280 workers in one such alleged identity theft scheme. The employer, Pilgrim's Pride, cooperated with ICE officials and no company employees were charged. If this sounds familiar, it is is similar to what happened in 2006 at the Swift meatpacking plants around the country. 

I certainly don't condone this. But I will say that as the pressure on workers mounts, you should expect to see more of this as well as more employers paying workers in cash. And a system that encourages identity theft or working under the table is bad public policy. We need immigration enforcement. But until we deal with the question of why employers and employees are willing to such risks, we're never going to solve the problem. The reason this is happening is pretty straightforward - we lack a legal way to meet the demands of the market. A tiny percentage of workers and employers might choose to break the law even if a legal and manageable way to import workers was available. But most would not. Until we have a workable guest worker program that matches up supply and demand, we will continue to see a black market. 

The New York Times is reporting on the sweeps as well.