- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The agency charged with interior immigration enforcement all but ignores going after illegal aliens in the workplace, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released yesterday.

The GAO found that an antiquated system for businesses to verify employees’ right to work has hindered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in its mission of tracking and deporting illegal aliens in the nation’s interior. In addition, the widespread use of fraudulent documents has made it difficult for both employers and ICE to detect illegal workers.

GAO investigators also said ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is devoting more attention to preventing terrorism, but that has meant less attention to illegal immigration in general.

“Work site enforcement has been a relatively low priority,” the GAO said, adding that some problems from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service carried over when that agency was abolished and split into ICE and other agencies in the Department of Homeland Security.

The report is likely to boost some House Republicans’ efforts to pass an immigration security enforcement bill. Rep. David Dreier, California Republican, said it shows why his plan to create a counterfeit-resistant Social Security card is needed.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the situation with ICE was “unacceptable.”

“Despite a substantial increase in enforcement officers and a huge public outcry about weak border security and increased levels of violent crime visited upon local communities by alien criminals, ICE can find no time for one of its most basic functions,” he said.

Rep. John Hostettler, chairman of the immigration, border security and claims subcommittee, said the report should be a message to the Bush administration.

“No serious effort to stem the flow of illegal aliens into the United States can take place without placing the elimination of the ‘jobs magnet’ at the top of the priority list,” the Indiana Republican said. “I hope that at some point this administration learns that fact.”

GAO staff had presented some findings to Mr. Hostettler’s subcommittee earlier this year, including that between 1999 and 2003 the number of notices of an intent to fine employers for immigration law violations dropped from 417 to three.

In a response included in the GAO report Steven J. Pecinovsky, the Department of Homeland Security’s liaison to the GAO, said ICE would set a timetable for looking into whether it could change the employee work verification process, but did not commit to actually streamlining it. Mr. Pecinovsky also promised to have ICE set targets for workplace enforcement.

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