In an extremely brief press release dated November 28, 2017, the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) reported that its "[c]riminal Investigative Division (CID) arrested 20 individuals who presented fraudulent identification documents to gain employment at Expeditors International in Memphis." Specifically:
A CID identity crimes investigation concluded these individuals presented fraudulent permanent resident and social security cards as well as Tennessee driver licenses to gain employment. CID signed arrest warrants for Forgery and Criminal Simulation on each of the accused.
That press release went on to quote THP Colonel Tracy Trott, who stated: "Identity theft has become a huge problem across the country. ... The THP has a dedicated unit to investigate these types of fraudulent crimes in Tennessee. We will continue to arrest and prosecute these criminals that intend to steal the identity of our citizens."
Not only did the THP bury the lede, it all but left it out entirely. The Department of Justice (DOJ) filled in some of the missing details in its own press release on December 13, 2017. The "20 individuals" who were arrested were in fact "20 illegal aliens working under false identities". The company in question, Expeditors International, is a "a freight forwarder based in Memphis".
And not only was the employment of those individuals of interest to THP, it also attracted the attention of "Transportation Security Administration [TSA] inspectors in Memphis", who "noticed anomalies in Security Threat Assessment paperwork submitted on behalf of Provide Staffing workers on contract to Expeditors International."
A freight forwarder is part of the international shipping supply chain. Export.gov explains: "Freight forwarders help prepare export documentation, book transport for your products, and, if needed, arrange for customs clearance at the port of arrival." To strengthen air cargo security in 2006, TSA began requiring background checks of freight forwarder employees.
This case underscores a number of issues. The most obvious is the availability of fraudulent documents that were sophisticated enough to fool the hiring agent at Provide Staffing. As my colleague Ronald W. Mortensen told the House Judiciary Committee's then-Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement in 2012:
The current I-9 employment authorization requirement has the unintended consequence of fueling a demand for fraudulent documents and encouraging employment-related identity theft since new hires are required to provide specific documents that illegal immigrants and individuals who are trying to hide their true identities cannot legally obtain.
Illegal immigrants are by far the prime drivers of employment-related document fraud and identity theft because a Social Security number is required to get a job with reputable employers.
Shortly after arrival in the United States, most illegal immigrants purchase a set of fraudulent documents that includes a Social Security number. This results in three-quarters (75 percent) of all illegal immigrants holding and using fraudulently obtained Social Security numbers according to the Actuary of the Social Security Administration.
Thus, fraudulent documents abound and since the quality of the documents is generally quite good, employers are unable to determine if the Social Security cards, driver's licenses or "green cards" presented by job seekers are real or fake by simply looking at them.
The obvious solution to this problem would be to make the E-Verify program mandatory for all employers United States. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) describes E-Verify as "an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify is fast, free and easy to use — and it's the best way employers can ensure a legal workforce." The Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 3711, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) would essentially make that program mandatory after a phase-in period. That bill was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee in October 2017, and is pending before the Committees on Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce.
The second issue this case underscores is the threat that the use of fraudulent documents by illegal aliens poses to our national security. More than 14 years ago, John S. Pistole, the then-assistant director of the Counterterrorism Division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), detailed the dangers posed by individuals using such fraudulent documents in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee.
The 9/11 Commission noted the importance of a "checkpoints" in our national security system to identify such risks. Passport and visa applications, ticket counters, gates, exit controls, applications for identification documents, and attempts to enter government facilities are each examples identified by the commission of such checkpoints. These provide "a chance to establish that people are who they say they are and are seeking access for their stated purpose, to intercept identifiable suspects, and to take effective action."
In the Tennessee case, "Transportation Security Administration inspectors" who were reviewing "Security Threat Assessment paperwork" served as such a "checkpoint". That's because the industry in which the illegal aliens worked (freight forwarding) is considered a security priority by the U.S. government. Imagine how much more secure our country would be from national security and criminal threats if every potential employee were checked through a system like E-Verify. The technology is there; only the will of the federal government is lacking.
At the end of the day, 20 illegal aliens were able to find employment in a secure industry for a period of time. Their efforts were only sidetracked by the particular interest of a particular government agency. At one level, the system worked. At another level, however, the system can work a whole lot better.