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[Pres. Clinton]

Clinton Signs Illegal Immigration Order

WASHINGTON (Feb. 13) -- In a move to discourage illegal immigration, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order today forbidding companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers from getting government contracts for a year.

"American jobs belong to America's legal workers," Clinton said in a statement. "This executive order will make clear that when it comes to enforcing our nation's immigration laws, we mean business."

Illegal immigration could be a key issue in the fall presidential campaign. Republican challenger Patrick Buchanan, who has made tighter controls on immigration part of his "America First" message, finished a strong second in Monday's GOP caucuses in Iowa.

The White House said the order was part of the administration's strategy to control illegal immigration by increasing the penalty for firms that hire them. In the past, companies have been fined, but the order would make them ineligible for government work.

White House officials told the Associated Press that the order would not affect companies that make good faith checks of employee documents which later turn out to be fraudulent.

Clinton's order was inspired by two Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) operations in the southeast last year. In one, INS workers in six states removed more than 4,000 illegal workers from jobs in construction, manufacturing, food processing, farms, restaurants and hotels. In another, after complaints from U.S. citizens, INS agents arrested 34 illegal workers hired to help build a new federal office building in Atlanta. The workers, mainly from Guatemala, Mexico and Canada, were employed as carpenters and skilled craftsmen, jobs that pay as much as $15 per hour.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the goal was to take away the lure of high-paying jobs that draw illegal workers across U.S. borders. "This sets a clear standard. If a company wants a contract bad enough, it would learn from its mistakes."

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