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GREEN LIGHT FOR ABUSE



Published: Thu, April 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



San Francisco Chronicle: The U.S. Supreme Court did all Americans a disservice last week by ruling that undocumented immigrants who are illegally fired are not entitled to the normal protections of U.S. labor law.

The decision is likely to encourage further abuse of the nation's lowest-paid workers and may even increase the flow of illegal immigration.

In the case, Jose Castro, a worker at a Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc., factory near Los Angeles, was fired along with three others for passing out union cards. The company's move was a clear violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which bars employers from punishing workers for trying to organize a union. So it was only logical that federal judges ordered the company to repay Castro $67,000 for three years of work he lost while the case wound its way through the courts.

But by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court's conservative majority decided that Castro, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had no right to back wages because payment would "trivialize the immigration laws (and) also condone and encourage future violations."

This ruling gives a green light to employers to hire illegal immigrants, cheat them of their wages and then fire them. Without the ability to force payment of back wages, state and federal labor agencies and the courts will only be able to levy fines amounting to a few thousand dollars at most -- a mere slap on the wrist.

Unscrupulous employers are likely to increase their recruiting of illegal workers, thus stimulating the flow of immigration into the United States rather than decreasing it.

To remedy the ruling, several reforms are needed:

UCongress should amend the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which barred employers from hiring illegal immigrants, to clarify that the law does not undermine those workers' rights.

UFederal and state agencies should strengthen their lax enforcement of labor law. For example, California has only 307 field inspectors to cover the state's 1.1 million workplaces. Less than one-quarter of those inspectors speak languages other than English -- a much-needed skill because of the high concentration of non-English speaking immigrants in low-wage industries prone to violations.

UThe California Department of Industrial Relations should issue an interpretive rule that says the Supreme Court decision does not affect undocumented workers' existing rights and remedies under state law.

These reforms would ensure basic fairness to the millions of immigrant workers whose sweat contributes so much to this nation.

SAT ADAPTS TO NEW DEMANDS

Dallas Morning News: The College Board's recently announced plan to revise the SAT, the college entrance exam taken by generations of high school students, is:

(a) A wise move, given the concerns raised by university presidents and others that test performance was being overemphasized to the detriment of both students and the colleges they attend.

(b) A welcome demonstration of flexibility in light of the many changes that have taken place in education in the last half-century.

(c) An opportunity for the makers of the test to improve on what they have, and reflect in their questions more of what is actually being learned in the classroom.

(d) All of the above.

The answer is (d), all of the above.

When the Wall Street Journal reported that College Board trustees had asked the organization's staff for recommendations about how to revise the three-hour test of students' verbal and mathematical ability, there was no mistaking the significance. The SAT is taken by more than 2 million high school students each year.

Early clues: The changes will not be determined until the trustees meet this summer, and whatever changes do take place will not take effect until the graduating class of 2006 comes along. But already, there are some early clues.

College Board officials say that the revised test likely will include more writing, and a more sophisticated level of math. The test takers of the future may be asked to put together a short, handwritten essay or tackle questions involving second-year algebra and trigonometry. Whereas the emphasis in math is currently on aptitude and reasoning, the new trend may be toward nuts-and-bolts problem-solving. And, in the verbal section, those dreaded analogies may be on the way out with more emphasis placed on reading comprehension.

It will be interesting to see exactly what changes the College Board trustees settle on later this year, but for now the important thing is that change is coming. It is worth noting that other institutions tied to the world of higher education have not always been eager, or able, to adapt to changing times, especially in the face of demands by outside entities.




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