A columnist for the newspaper where I worked my way through college and law school has an interesting article today about the most recent immigration changes — the “no match” letters.

Rowland Nethaway says this continuing crackdown on illegal workers is going to damage the nation’s economy. Here are excerpts from his column:

WACO, Texas — If authorities continue to crack down on illegal workers, the full Congress will learn the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

The raids and arrests that have occurred so far have already had an economic impact on the nation’s agriculture industry.

Other segments of the economy can expect a sharp downturn as employers lose access to a valuable illegal immigrant workforce.

Unless Congress acts quickly to overhaul the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system, Americans can expect to experience a significant jump in prices at the grocery store.

The hit on American pocketbooks will not be limited to price hikes and shortages at the supermarket. Across the economy, many services will decline while direct costs will rise.

Evidently, not enough members of Congress play chess. Even beginning chess players know they must think several moves ahead to have any chance at winning.

Congress’ enforcement-only camp succeeded in shooting down a comprehensive immigration reform bill supported by President Bush and a bipartisan assemblage of Democrats and Republicans.

The legislation would have provided a method to legally match foreign workers with American employers.

In another example of being careful about what you ask for, immigration authorities have stepped up enforcement of long-ignored laws that make it illegal for U.S. employers to hire illegal immigrant workers.

Additionally, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a new policy that requires employers to follow up on “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration.

These letters will inform employers when the nine-digit sequence of numbers provided by their workers does not to match the Social Security database.

For years now, employers have known that nothing would happen to them when they wadded up and tossed these no-match letters into the nearest trash can.

Now, employers have been told that if they do not clear up mismatched Social Security numbers, then the identified workers must be fired or the employers will face fines up to $10,000, as well as possible criminal charges.

It’s been unlawful to hire illegal workers for decades. About the only time the immigration law has made news has been when a presidential nominee was discovered to have hired an illegal nanny.

Breaking the immigration law has been enough to disqualify a nominee from a plum government appointment, but not enough to motivate immigration authorities to enforce the law on employers across the nation.

Full enforcement of the new no-match requirement will only disrupt a fraction of illegal workers who can buy, borrow or steal valid Social Security numbers.

Also, the letters will only be sent to employers with at least 10 workers with mismatched Social Security numbers, and where those workers make up at least 0.5 percent of their workforce.

An estimated 75 percent of day laborers are illegal and undocumented. As a rule, no documents are requested and none are given. Many of these workers endure wage theft from unscrupulous employers.

Still, the recent baby steps that have been taken to enforce long-standing immigration laws have caused serious disruptions in the operations of many American businesses as word of the crackdowns has spread.

Early reports indicate that many farmers will produce only 50 percent of their normal crops due to the growing labor shortage.

In some cases, farmers have chosen to not plant due to the difficulty in finding workers to harvest the crops.

It is estimated that at least two-thirds of the workers in construction and agriculture are working illegally.

The enforcement-only critics who killed comprehensive immigration reform should have easily predicted this outcome. But they didn’t.

Rowland Nethaway writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.