Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter, has come out of the closet and announced to the world that he is an illegal alien. In his tell-all confession, published in the New York Times Magazine, he outs not only himself, but others who abetted his illegal presence and employment in the United States, including The Post itself, which continued to employ him even after a member of the paper’s management learned that he had lied about his citizenship.
Most important, Mr. Vargas’ confession exposes the ease with which he, and millions of illegal aliens like him, can circumvent the law. It was as easy as a piece of white masking tape and a photocopy machine. Mr. Vargas writes that when he was a teenager, he and his grandfather covered over the portion of his Social Security card that said he was ineligible to work in the United States before photocopying it. Using a copy of an already flimsy card that constitutes the most important piece of identification Americans possess, Mr. Vargas was able repeatedly to flout the law against illegal aliens working in this country.
If any of his employers - The Washington Post, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post - had simply verified his Social Security number, they would have learned that it was invalid for employment. If the Social Security Administration (SSA) had been required to disclose that it was collecting taxes on an account that was not authorized for employment, the government itself could have identified Mr. Vargas as an illegal alien and taken action. But employers are not required to verify Social Security numbers, and government agencies are not required to inform other government agencies that laws are being violated. And so we have an estimated 7 million illegal aliens on payrolls in the United States.
Whether it was his intent or not, the timing of Mr. Vargas’ confession provides compelling testimony in support of legislation introduced earlier this month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas Republican) and the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa Republican). Both of these bills would mandate that instead of a cursory inspection of any of more than two dozen different documents, all employers would be required to use the E-Verify system, which verifies information against Social Security and immigration records.
The Smith and Grassley bills also would discourage an additional and common form of fraud perpetrated by Mr. Vargas. In his public confession, Mr. Vargas admits to having perjured himself repeatedly by attesting that he was a U.S. citizen on the I-9 forms he filled out for employers. Mandatory verification of his Social Security number would have revealed that he was neither a citizen nor an alien authorized to work in this country and could have subjected him to criminal charges.
The common practice of using someone else’s valid Social Security number to gain employment would become more difficult and riskier under both the House and Senate bills. The bills require SSA to flag numbers being used by more than one worker, in much the same way that credit card companies routinely freeze accounts when they suspect fraud. Enhanced civil and criminal penalties, including mandatory prison sentences, against illegal aliens or employers who engage in identity theft or fraud would be an additional deterrent to this sort of abuse. To prevent this sort of fraud from occurring, greater cooperation and information-sharing between government agencies would be required.
As Mr. Vargas’ story illustrates, employment of illegal aliens is not limited to shady businesses on the fringes of the American economy. Even companies whose integrity is their stock in trade are affected. A system that depends on employers examining documents they have no way of knowing are valid or allowing people who are intent on breaking the law to check a box attesting that they are citizens makes a mockery of the law.
E-Verify is a proven secure and reliable system for denying jobs to illegal workers. For those who still may harbor doubts that universal employment verification is necessary, Jose Antonio Vargas is Exhibit A.
Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.