Create reliable system to verify employment eligibility
Federal authorities rely largely on tips or rare detections to enforce laws against employment of undocumented aliens.
An isolated detection of a man whose boarding pass and green card did not match at Honolulu Airport led to the arrest last month of 43 Mexican workers accused of using fake work documents to get jobs in Hawaii. Likewise, anonymous tips resulted in the arrest in December of 19 allegedly illegal immigrants at a Honolulu high-rise being built downtown. A more comprehensive system is needed to make employment of illegal aliens a thing of the past.
The arrests show that the Bush administration is intent on identifying and prosecuting illegal aliens and those who hire them knowing of their status. Unfortunately, immigration officials must rely on happenstance to catch them because of the federal bureaucracy's incompetence.
The Department of Homeland Security launched a program last year requiring employers to obtain valid Social Security information for an employee. If no match was found in the system's database, the employee would have to be fired, or the employer would face hefty fines.
The department prepared to send out 141,000 no-match letters, including 127 in Hawaii, when a federal judge in California brought the plan to a halt to avoid "irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers." The Social Security Administration's inspector general had found that 17.8 million of its 435 million individual records contained discrepancies that included those of 12.8 million native-born Americans.
Likewise, in a two-year pilot program covering about 23,000 employers that voluntarily participated, the agency rejected 11 percent of foreign-born American citizens and 1.3 percent of foreigners who were authorized to work in the U.S.
"We have definitely ramped up prosecution, and work site enforcement is a priority in our office," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Hino told the Star-Bulletin's Ken Kobayashi last week.
Unfortunately, federal authorities will have to continue reliance on tips or breaks to detect the illegal activity through the rest of the Bush administration. The next administration should make creation of an efficient system for revealing illegality through government records a priority.
Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has promised to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Obama says he will create a mandatory system for verifying employment eligibility.
Sen. John McCain, his Republican opponent, says he too "will implement a secure, accurate and reliable electronic verification system," but only after he finishes "securing our borders," which means building a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.
A secure border is an expensive and false remedy, failing to recognize that about half the illegal immigrants entered the U.S. with legal documents and remained in the country after they expired. A workable employee verification system is the more urgent need.