Proposals to Improve the Electronic Employment Verification and Worksite Enforcement System

By Jessica M. Vaughan on April 26, 2007

Statement of Jessica M. Vaughan
Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Immigration Studies

House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees,
Border Security, and International Law
Washington, DC

April 26, 2007

Good morning, and thanks to Ms. Lofgren and Mr. King for the opportunity to appear today to discuss proposals to improve the federal electronic employment verification (EEV) program. My remarks are a summary of my written testimony submitted earlier to the subcommittee.

My view is that the EEV works very well and is accomplishing the two goals of helping employers avoid hiring illegal workers and making it harder for illegal workers to deceive employers. Congress does not need to make changes to the way the system operates or how queries are processed, as has been proposed in the STRIVE Act. After ten years of tests, evaluations and improvements, we know that it works. It is an efficient system. It has safeguards to prevent wrongful termination and discrimination. Employers report that it is easier to use than the existing I-9 paperwork system and brings no disruption to the company or to legal workers.

The system is working well, but it is not perfect. The biggest problem with the EEV program is that it is still voluntary those employers who wish to excuse themselves from the law can choose not to do electronic verification. Not only is this unfair, it means the program is not nearly as effective as it could be in curbing illegal employment.

Companies who must compete with scofflaws are at a disadvantage. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that conscientious employers who perform their due diligence in hiring are not put at a disadvantage for doing so. The most obvious way to do this is to phase in mandatory participation in EEV, ideally starting with industries that have historically attracted large numbers of illegal workers.

If the program were to be made mandatory tomorrow, most businesses would be able to comply. Even most small businesses already use the Internet and can access the system. Companies who don't want to do it themselves can pay their own accountant or lawyer or hire one of the many private-sector designated agents to verify their workers.

If the program is made mandatory, it is important that certain processes that have been honed over the 10-year pilot phase be preserved. For example, current practice is to do the manual confirmations, which are more costly and time-consuming, only when an employee contests a tentative non-confirmation result. Those who do not contest a tentative non-confirmation are assumed to be ineligible, and the agencies don't have to spend any more time on them. This self-weeding feature will be even more important as the volume of queries increases. The STRIVE Act, on the other hand, requires that the manual verification process be done even before determining if an employee will contest a tentative non-confirmation. That would be wasteful and the Verification Office would quickly become bogged down trying to verify many thousands of unverifiable cases.

The other major issue that has to be addressed to improve this system is identity fraud, which EEV often cannot detect. While this is a vulnerability, it is not a fatal flaw, and a number of options exist to overcome the system's limitations.

First, Congress should support the USCIS plan to develop a monitoring and compliance unit in the Verification Office by providing resources for staff and technology. In addition to electronic monitoring, the unit should institute a thorough on-site audit process to check both paperwork and employees. It should be done both on a random basis and to follow up on leads generated by monitoring queries. In addition, the Social Security Administration should be directly to routinely share information with DHS on possible immigration violations.

There are other ways for companies to pick up on this kind of fraud on their own. For almost two years the Social Security Administration has offered an electronic verification service (SSNVS) so employers can audit their payrolls current workers, not just new hires and detect any discrepancies between company records and the SSA record. Nearly 20,000 employers used it last year, verifying more than 25 million employees, making it even bigger than the EEV program. Arizona has been doing SSNVS audits for more than a year, and North Carolina considers it a best practice, insisting that its public employers do it on a quarterly basis. If Swift & Company had made use of this tool, it might have been spared the major disruption caused when ICE raided its work sites at the end of last year. Congress should consider requiring all employers of a certain size to perform regular SSNVS audits as an alternative to retroactive EEV screening.

Some have proposed to address the identity fraud issue through the creation of a biometric work identification card, perhaps by adding biometric features to the Social Security card. While this might be a desirable goal for the future and deserves further study, I don't see how it will help improve the existing verification process. Besides the cost, even if every legal worker had a biometric card to prove it, very few, if any, employers have the capability to authenticate the identity job applicants. While plenty of barbershops, snowball stands, and gas stations do use the Internet on a regular basis, it is not realistic to expect them to acquire fingerprint readers or retina scanners at this point. It is not fair to make the communities around the nation that are shouldering the burden of illegal immigration wait for such technology to become available and affordable before they see serious immigration law enforcement.

Finally, there must be a more vigorous worksite enforcement effort from ICE and a greater effort to address the off the books underground employment market.

Mandatory verification of immigration status for new employment is not a magic solution to the illegal immigration problem. It is one key part of a larger strategy of increased enforcement and more voluntary compliance with immigration laws. Before long, a large share of illegal aliens will return home on their own and fewer will try to come, thereby easing the burden on many communities and enabling federal authorities to concentrate on the most difficult cases.

Thank you again for your attention to these issues.

Respectfully submitted by:

Jessica M. Vaughan
Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Immigration Studies
[email protected]