Illegal immigrants with stolen Social Security numbers (SSN) are still beating the federal government's employment eligibility verification system, warned senators yesterday at a subcommittee hearing. Meanwhile, new government numbers show the fewest number of illegal immigrants caught sneaking across the border since the 1970s.
The Obama administration has mandated that by September 8 all federal contractors and subcontractors use the online E-Verify system to ensure their prospective employees can legally work in the United States. But Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) expressed deep reservations about the effectiveness of the program, which they say has too many loopholes, reports The Houston Chronicle.
Schumer said it's too easy for an illegal immigrant to beat the E-Verify program by simple providing an employer the name, SSN, and address of a U.S. citizen. He proposes the program adopt biometrics, "such as fingerprints or enhanced face-reading biometric photographs," to prove people are who they say they are, reports the Chronicle.
Mike Aytes, acting deputy director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency that handles E-Verify, told the subcommittee his agency is working to patch the loophole with photographs from state driver's licenses.
USCIS is also assessing the feasibility of a state-based department of motor vehicles (DMV) data exchange that would incorporate driver's license photos into the photo tool. This would represent a significant enhancement to the system, since new hires most often present a driver's license for Form I-9 purposes. To date, no state has yet agreed to add its driver's license data to the photo tool. If launched, this functionality would be available to any state that chooses to participate.
USCIS is aware that identity fraud is a serious concern in the U.S. and is especially concerned with how this practice affects E-Verify. While USCIS cannot detect all forms of identity fraud used by an employee who is run through E-Verify, we are working to find ways to detect and deter fraud to the extent possible. Incorporating driver's license information and photos would strongly support this effort.
As the senators debated the flaws of E-Verify, new numbers from the Department of Homeland Security show that the apprehension of illegal immigrants crossing the border have dropped to levels not seen since the 1970s, reports the Mercury News.
Apprehensions of illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are down 34 percent over the past two years... on pace to be even lower in fiscal 2009. With record removals of unauthorized migrants in the U.S. and increased spending on border security, the economic and enforcement barriers to crossing into California and other Southwestern states have rarely been higher, federal officials and immigration experts say.
"It's far riskier to cross the border, it costs more, and the rewards are simply not there — the jobs that have driven people here for 40 years," said Al Camarillo, a Stanford historian who follows Latin American immigration.
A new Pew Research Center report estimates that for the 12 months ending in February 2009, the net migration between Mexico and the U.S. — the number of people coming to the U.S. minus those returning to Mexico — was about 203,000, less than half of the 547,000 two years earlier.
Jeffrey Passel, co-author of the Pew report, says there's no way to tell whether the recession or increased border security is responsible for the decline, although he says both probably play a part.
♦ Photo of border fence near El Paso, Texas, by Paul_Garland/Flickr