Monday, June 19, 2006

The federal government is not capable of helping employers determine whether workers in the U.S. are illegal aliens, a government official will testify before a Senate subcommittee this afternoon.

Richard M. Stana, director of homeland security and justice for the Government Accountability Office, said that two decades after Congress ordered the government to create a program to prevent the hiring of illegals, such a program still doesn’t exist.

Immigration specialists have “found that the single most important step that could be taken to reduce unlawful immigration is the development of a more effective system for verifying work authorization,” Mr. Stana said in prepared testimony obtained by The Washington Times.

“In the nearly 20 years since the passage of [the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986], the employment-eligibility verification process and work-site enforcement program have remained largely unchanged,” he said. “Moreover, in previous work, we reported that employers of unauthorized aliens faced little likelihood that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) would investigate, fine or criminally prosecute them, a circumstance that provides little disincentive for employers who want to circumvent the law.”

The testimony, before the Judiciary immigration, border security and citizenship subcommittee, comes after the Senate approved a bill that would grant citizenship rights to about 10 million illegal aliens now in the country. And, like the 1986 amnesty law, this bill promises to crack down on illegal immigration.

The primary focus of that crackdown — just as in the 1986 legislation — will be the employers who draw the illegals here in hopes of finding jobs. But if the past performance of the federal government is any indication, there is little room for optimism, say critics of the Senate bill, such as Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

“There has been less than an hour of debate and no testimony on whether the new electronic verification system will succeed in reducing illegal immigration in the future,” said Mr. Cornyn, who is chairman of the committee before which Mr. Stana will testify today.

Mr. Stana said the work-site enforcement program has been a low priority for INS, which is now defunct, and for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“Consistent with the DHS mission to combat terrorism, after September 11, 2001, INS and then ICE focused work-site enforcement efforts mainly on detecting and removing unauthorized workers from critical infrastructure sites,” he said.

Since President Bush took office, he added, the numbers of employer notices of intent to fine and administrative work-site arrests have “generally declined.”

Efforts at employment verification — also known as the Form I-9 process — have been hampered by a burgeoning of document fraud (the use of counterfeit documents) and identity fraud (fraudulent used of valid documents that belong to others), Mr. Stana said.

In 1998, U.S. immigration officials proposed revising the Form I-9 process and in particular reducing the number of documents that would be acceptable for employment verification. But eight years later, the federal government under the current leadership of the Department of Homeland Security “has not yet finalized the proposal,” Mr. Stana said.

There is in place, however, the “Basic Pilot Program,” a voluntary employment verification system in which only a small number of employers participate.

“Yet, several weaknesses in the pilot program’s implementation, such as its inability to detect identity fraud and DHS delays in entering data into its databases, could adversely affect increased use of the pilot program, if not addressed,” he said.

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