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With national Democratic and Hispanic leaders at his side, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, launched a drive Wednesday to repeal sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens.

He said such sanctions enacted four years ago have not stopped illegal immigration but have created job discrimination against Hispanics and Asians as employers try to avoid jail or fines for hiring illegal aliens, even unknowingly."Illegal aliens continue to pour into this country. A cottage industry in counterfeit and fraudulent documents has flourished, and an increasingly lucrative black market in smuggling aliens has thrived," Hatch said at a press conference.

"At the same time, some employers have engaged in illegal discrimination against Americans who look or sound foreign, or have foreign-sounding names, in order to avoid potential lawsuits, fines and jail sentences."

The U.S. General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, recently said nearly 20 percent of 4.6 million employers surveyed nationwide reported either turning away job applicants or subjecting them to tougher scrutiny because of a foreign appearance, accent, last name or birthplace.

One of the co-sponsors to Hatch's legislation, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said, "In the face of such evidence, there is no justification for Congress to retain on the statute books these provisions that lead to unintended discrimination."

Four other Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the bill: Alan Cranston of California, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. Rep. Edward R. Roybal, D-Calif., will sponsor companion legislation in the House.

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the Hispanic rights groups National Council of La Raza, also praised the legislation.

"What is at stake is nothing less than whether civil rights laws also apply to Hispanics, Asians and others who look `foreign.' The current employer sanctions policy is tantamount to a declaration of open season on Hispanics in the job market," he said. Hatch is chairman of a congressional Hispanic caucus.

Besides repealing employer sanctions, Hatch's legislation also seeks to beef up efforts against illegal immigration. It would:

-Increase the number of Border Patrol officers to 6,600, and provide $52 million for additional equipment and training for the patrol.

-Add 250 people to the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department to investigate violations of labor laws in areas with high concentrations of illegal aliens.

-Add 21 assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute people who bring in or harbor illegal aliens, and increase the penalty for such crimes.

-Enact a Senate resolution calling for the administration to initiate discussions with Mexico and Canada to form programs to prevent and prosecute smuggling of illegal aliens.

Assistant Senate Republican leader Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a chief author of the law that created employer sanctions four years ago, has said Congress should work to improve the employee verification system rather than repeal sanctions.

But Hatch said, "Half-hearted measures, such as a moratorium on sanctions and underfunded and short-lived employer education efforts, are totally inadequate to avert these consequences (of worker discrimination)."

The bill also is endorsed by the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.