The Case for Saving the Special Counsel

	             Lawrence Siskind

               San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed
                     April 21, 1990

Five months behind schedule, the Geneal Accounting Office has issued its report on the impact of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The agency found that the law's employer sanctions provision has caused a widespread pattern of discrimination.

The employer sanctions provision punishes employers for knowingly hiring or empoying unauthorized aliens. Now we are in the 30-day period during which Congress must decide whether to approve the GAO finding. If it aproves, the employer sanctions program will end.

Another, less well-known component of IRCA also hangs in the balance: the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), created under IRCA to combat national origin and citizenship status discrimination.

Regaredless of what Congress decides to do with employer sanctions, there are good reasons for keeping the OSC. It has had a major impact on American hiring and employment practices, an impact that transcends the employer sanctions program.

The OSC has negotiated far-reaching settlements with Pan American Airways, United, Northwest and Flying Tiger. Pan Am, United and American had refused to hire flight attendants who were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents with "green cards."

Northwest and Flying Tiger had refused to hire pilots who were not citizens. After suit (or threat of suit) by the OSC, both agreed to change its policies. Now they hire not only citizens, but also qualified temporary residents, permanent residents, asylees and refugees who are in the process of becoming citizens.

The OSC has had a comparably significant effect in the defense industry. Northrop, Ford Aerospace and Lockheed all restricted their hiring to citizens and permanent residents. After investigation and prosecution by the OSC, each of these defense giants ended their restrictions. They now hire qualified aliens who intend to become citizens, except where the job in question requires a security clearance. McDonnell Douglas restricted many of its jobs to citizens before agreeing under pressure from the OSC to abolish its restriction.

As a result of these and many other investigations by the OSC, hundreds of thousands of jobs are now opened to qualified aliens who are on their way to citizenship.

Moreover, in each of these cases, the employer's restrictive practice had nothing to do with the employer sanctions program. Each of the challenged hiring practices predated IRCA.

The plain fact is that most of the OSC's impact has been over companies and industries where the employer sanctions program was not a factor. So regardless of what Congress decies about the employer sanctions program, the OSC has justified its existence and deserves to survive.

Lawrence J. Siskind headed the Office of the Special Counsel from 1987-1989. He practices law in San Francisco.