Feds’ citizenship checks expanded

Agencies caught in the immigration debate; DHS system to check worker data

Editor's note: This story was updated at 2 p.m. Aug. 22, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

The Bush administration has thrown federal agencies into the heat of the immigration debate. It is requiring agencies to use a database to match the Social Security numbers and personal information of new employees.

The goal is to make it harder for illegal immigrants to get hired. When Congress didn’t pass immigration reform legislation earlier this summer, administration officials decided that the government would lead by example in applying current immigration regulations, the Office of Management and Budget said in a memo Aug. 10.

By Oct. 1, all agencies must validate the Social Security numbers of their new hires against the E-Verify database, Stephen McMillin, OMB’s acting director, said in the memo to agency leaders.

E-Verify, which private-sector employers also are encouraged to use, is an enhanced version of the Basic Pilot program, which the Homeland Security Department operates in coordination with the Social Security Administration.

The E-Verify process is in line with agency plans to implement Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, McMillin said.

“The ability to verify the employment eligibility of our nation’s workforce is key to enforcing our immigration laws,” he said.

Under the new name, E-Verify, DHS will enhance Basic Pilot with new sources of data to cross-check visa and passport information. Basic Pilot lets employers verify personal data and Social Security numbers of citizens and immigration information for noncitizens against federal databases to validate their employment eligibility, OMB said.

E-Verify also will automate what has been a paper-based process, DHS officials said.

Agencies, like other employers, already require new employees to fill out DHS Form I-9s, listing proof of identification and citizenship such as driver’s licenses. It can take weeks to manually check that information. Agencies currently do not use the Basic Pilot system.

Now, the hiring agency will be required to match Social Security numbers and other personal information, said Gerri Ratliff, chief of the verification division at the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency within DHS. The requirement, however, should not be a burden, she added.

“Using E-Verify only means that the agency will spend, in most cases, approximately one minute verifying their new employee’s I-9 information,” Ratliff said.

Through E-Verify, public or private employers do not have direct access to government databases. They send a query that is checked against those databases, Ratliff said.

Previously, agencies such as the Office of Personnel Management limited verification to a review of DHS-prescribed documents and completion of the I-9 form.

“E-Verify is simply an additional step to immediately verify information that new employees have had to provide to agencies, as U.S. employers, since the late 1980s,” an OPM spokesman said.

The system’s effectiveness will depend on how it is implemented and managed, said Alethea Long-Green, director of human capital studies at the National Academy of Public Administration.

“To do this in real time will be a benefit for employers, federal employers, too,” she said.

OMB also urged agencies to encourage their contractors to use E-Verify. More than 200,000 companies do business with the federal government. OMB said it is working with DHS and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to change the FAR to cover use of E-Verify.

DHS recently sent a letter to its major contractors encouraging them to sign up online to use the free program. It no
ed that its Immigra
ion and Customs Enforcement agency last year had stepped up efforts to identify employers who do not comply with immigration laws and made 716 criminal arrests. Many of those arrested were charged with illegally employing unauthorized workers.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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