A Department of Homeland Security test program to have U.S. employers verify all new hires against a central database to verify employment eligibility and immigration status will help cut down on illegal immigration, said Robert Divine, acting deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The Basic Pilot program, which began in 1997 and has been expanded ever since, is currently a voluntary program in which employers can verify the immigration and employment eligibility of workers they hire, and the Bush administration has called for the program to become mandatory.
“Today, an illegal immigrant with a fake ID and Social Security card can find work almost anywhere in the country without difficulty. It’s the prospect of jobs that leads people to risk their lives crossing a hundred miles of desert,” Divine testified before a Congressional subcommittee Tuesday.
Once made mandatory, the system, which will be known as the Employment Eligibility Verification System, will encompass virtually every U.S. employer and employee, and could be up and running in as little as two years, Divine said.
The system works by verifying the worker’s Social Security number, and in the case of immigrants, a DHS-issued alien registration number, against DHS and Social Security Administration databases. In most cases, eligibility is either confirmed or denied immediately.
However, in 12 percent of cases involving the Social Security number and 19 percent of cases involving the alien registration number, the system can’t currently verify the information immediately. In these cases, the employee must contact DHS or SSA within eight days to straighten out the situation or risk losing the job or having immigration enforcement actions initiated.
“USCIS will forward enforcement leads to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Worksite Enforcement in accordance with referral procedures developed with ICE,” Divine said.
But with an accuracy of 98% on its best days, and the huge number of verifications which will go through the system, actually performing the worksite enforcement could be a challenge.
“You’re talking about a huge investigatory effort,” said one Customs and Border Protection management official. He said he anticipates a huge jump in CBP’s workload if the verification system is fully implemented nationwide. . . .
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., who testified at the subcommittee hearing as both an advocate of stricter immigration regulations and as a former business owner, expressed concern that inaccuracy could increase as the pilot grows to cover millions of businesses.
“If you expand the program very quickly, that may affect accuracy,” he said. “No program will ever be perfect.” — Government Executive
Michael Ostrolenk, national director for the Liberty Coalition, said that the program amounts to a “dangerous new national identity database system and firmly establishes the predicate for a new national ID card system.”
“Even setting aside concerns of intentional ‘blacklisting’ of innocent Americans, even a small error rate could mean millions of Americans forced out of work by computer mistakes,” he said. “Homeland Security has a poor record of putting innocent Americans on secretive ‘no-fly’ lists, and should not be entrusted with determining who is allowed is to make a living in this country.”