- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security yesterday announced new steps to make it easier for businesses to verify whether workers are in the country legally, and called for Congress to give the department authority to track mismatched Social Security numbers submitted by businesses.

“Most businesses want to do the right thing when it comes to employing legal workers,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. “These new regulations will give U.S. businesses the necessary tools to increase the likelihood that they are employing workers consistent with our laws. They also help us to identify and prosecute employers who are blatantly abusing our immigration system.”

The move comes as the administration is trying to convince members of Congress it is serious about enforcing immigration laws. It hopes this will sway lawmakers to support President Bush’s call for a broad immigration bill that both creates a temporary worker program for future foreign workers and a path to citizenship for most current illegal aliens.

Many Republicans in Congress argue that the key to controlling illegal immigration lies not at the border but in ending the magnet of jobs for illegal aliens.

Employers are required to review documents and certify that new hires are legal workers on a form known as the I-9. But 29 different documents are considered acceptable proof, and a giant fraud industry has cropped up to provide illegal aliens with fake documents that are good enough to fool employers.

Also, while a Social Security card is one of the most common documents for proving eligibility, every year businesses submit invalid Social Security numbers for millions of employees.

The Social Security Administration mails out “no-match” letters notifying a company that the numbers are invalid, but many companies ignore the letters and are rarely penalized.

Mr. Chertoff is proposing two new regulations: One would allow employers to maintain electronic copies of the I-9 form, making verification easier. The second regulation would clarify that a business cannot ignore a no-match letter.

A DHS spokesman said the no-match regulation will allow the department to build a case against businesses violating the law.

Mr. Chertoff also wants Congress to let the Social Security Administration share information with DHS on businesses that rack up large no-match tallies — something the law prevents now.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said yesterday that 53.4 percent of the Social Security numbers submitted by one company — Houston-based IFCO Systems — were invalid, and the Social Security Administration had informed the company at least 13 times.

DHS raided IFCO locations earlier this year and apprehended hundreds of illegal aliens.

Mr. Cornyn, chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, said Mr. Chertoff is taking steps in the right direction, but said they were “only a Band-Aid.” He said the key to drying up jobs is to give employers a reliable way of knowing whether someone is legal.

The House and Senate have both called for mandatory electronic verification systems for employers to check employees, though the House version goes somewhat further than the Senate.

Former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said a biometric verification system similar to U.S. VISIT, which currently takes finger scans of all foreign nationals with visas entering U.S. airports, could be used by employers to check the identity of those they hire.

Mr. Bonner, a former U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the biometric system could be used by the employers to check identity cards against government databases to “dramatically reduce the rampant fraud that currently exists.”

He also said current sanctions against employers hiring illegal aliens are too weak, noting that the government now must prove that an employer knowingly hired illegals twice before the company can be criminally prosecuted, and then, it is only a misdemeanor.

To achieve a true deterrent, Mr. Bonner said, the government must hire more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to investigate the unlawful hiring of aliens.

Work-site enforcement has fallen under Mr. Bush. In fiscal 1999 the Clinton administration issued 443 notices of intent to fine businesses for violating immigration hiring laws. By fiscal 2003 that had dropped to 16.

The amount of fines also dropped from $2.7 million to $212,322 during the same period.

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