Employment Verification Program Called Underused

Employment Verification Program Called Underused

By Eleanor Stables, CQ Staff
July 24, 2007 7:33 p.m.

A program that verifies employees are authorized to work in the United States could be expanded without any new law if the federal government itself used it more, according to two conservative immigration experts.

The Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), also known as Basic Pilot, is currently voluntary and is actively used by approximately 8,500 of the nations 5.9 million employers to verify a new employees work eligibility. It would have been made mandatory under the Senate immigration overhaul bill (S 1639) that failed in the Senate last month.

Only a few government agencies use EEVS: the Department of Homeland Securitys headquarters, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters and field offices, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Federal Protective Services in Philadelphia, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Police in Montrose, N.Y., according to USCIS spokesman Bill Wright. EEVS is used for new hires, not current employees.

House and Senate members, committees and support offices also use EEVS, he added.

James Jay Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said in an interview that DHS is likely to require federal employees and contractors to use EEVS. Thats probably going to happen. . . . Ive been told thats in the works and could well be coming down the pike, he said.

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said in an interview that the president could issue an executive order that federal contractors use EEVS, and federal employers could be required to as well, although contractors are far more likely than the federal government to have hired an illegal worker.

The Heritage Foundation and the Center for Immigration Studies are both conservative think tanks that opposed the Senate immigration bill. The bill would have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States, receive legal status and ultimately earn citizenship, created a temporary guest worker program, and appropriated $4.4 billion in border security spending.

The federal government could set the example, saying all of our contractors use [EEVS], Camarota said.

The White House referred to DHS the question of whether the department could legally issue such an executive order or intended to. DHS declined to comment.

Approximately 55 percent of illegal immigrants work on the books, meaning they fill out federal employment eligibility verification paperwork using false or fraudulent information, according to Camarota.

Once EEVS is proved capable of handling the initial increase in requests and improved as necessary it could be expanded to additional employers, he said. Federal contractors are a good place to start as they already have lots of reporting requirements, he added.

The Senate immigration bill would have required all employers to use EEVS, and many lawmakers expressed doubt that EEVS could cope efficiently with the increased requests.

A December 2006 report by the Social Security Administrations Office of Inspector General found discrepancies in 4.1 percent of the SSAs records on individuals, which are checked as part of the EEVS process. Those discrepancies can lead to tentative nonconfirmations of employment eligibility, most of which require a person to visit an SSA office to resolve the problem. The discrepancies can take several days, or even weeks, to resolve. Employers use EEVS after, not before, hiring an employee, and agree under the memorandum of understanding not to interpret a tentative nonconfirmation as an indication that the employee is not work authorized.

Of illegal immigration, Camarota said, Everyone agrees that the problem cant be solved overnight, so do what you can now. Several measures can be taken under current law to decrease illegal immigration, and they would restore some of the trust in the public that the government will enforce immigration law, he said.

Decreasing illegal immigration without creating new laws could be achieved by building hundreds of miles of border fence authorized by Congress last year, hiring more Border Patrol agents as planned, and expanding 287(g) agreements, which allow local and state police to enforce federal immigration law, Camarota said. However, he acknowledged these efforts would require new laws to fully fund them.

Carafano of the Heritage Foundation predicted that now the Senate bill had failed, theres going to be more willingness at DHS to participate in the 287(g) program by increasing efforts to recruit state and local partners. DHS could also give more homeland security grant money to border communities, he said.

But while Carafano and others argue you dont need a massive immigration bill because a variety of existing laws could be enforced instead, Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the floor manager and chief sponsor of the Senates immigration bill, warned the day of the bills demise that its failure would mean this situation is going to get worse and worse and worse.

Eleanor Stables can be reached at estables@cq.com.