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Checking Employees Will Help

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Checking Employees Will Help

By Elton Gallegly

In March, agents with the Department of Homeland Security arrested 57 illegal immigrants working in sensitive jobs at various sites across the country, including inside secure areas at airports and nuclear power plants. In April, department agents arrested 66 illegal immigrants building a federal courthouse in Orlando, Fla. In May, 60 illegal immigrants were arrested at 12 sensitive sites in six states, including petrochemical refineries, electric power plants and a pipeline facility, including two working at the Reliant Energy-Ormond Beach Power Plant in Oxnard. Over the past two years, about 1,100 illegal immigrants have been arrested at our nation's airports.

The illegal immigrants who landed jobs at the Orlando courthouse used fraudulent Social Security numbers and other counterfeit documents to get their jobs. The courthouse will not only house criminal and civil cases from throughout central Florida, but will also house federal judges, the U.S. Marshals Service and staff members.

The March arrest included a Peruvian national who worked as an airplane mechanic. According to a published report, he purchased his fraudulent Social Security card on a soccer field for $70. All those arrested used fraudulent documents, including Social Security cards, to get their jobs. That includes those arrested in the May bust, and those arrested over the past two years at our nation's airports.

While I applaud the Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for proactively investigating and arresting illegal immigrants working in sensitive jobs, these investigations are expensive and take a lot of manpower. There is an easier way, and it's already in place.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire or employ illegal immigrants and required employers to check the identity and work eligibility documents of all new employees. Because of the prevalence of counterfeit documents, the law has been easily circumvented.

Congress responded in 1996 by taking a recommendation from the Immigration Task Force, which I chaired, to create a pilot program in which employers in selected states could voluntarily ask the government to check the Social Security numbers and alien identification numbers of newly hired employees. Last year, the voluntary program was expanded to all 50 states. Originally, employers called to verify documents; now it's all done electronically.

The program has been a success for the nearly 12,000 worksites that have used the system. In fact, a few years ago, the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University and Westate prepared a report on the employment-verification program. They found that an overwhelming majority of employers participating found the program to be an effective tool for employment verification; that 94 percent of employers found it to be more reliable than a document check; and that 83 percent of the employers reported that participating in the pilot reduced uncertainty regarding work authorization.

The report also found that 64 percent of employers agreed that the number of unauthorized workers who applied for jobs decreased when the system was used. A bill I introduced in April would make the system mandatory for employers who hire for national-security-sensitive jobs. Specifically, the Electronic Employment Verification Act would require employers at federal, state and local buildings, military bases, nuclear-energy sites and airports to use the electronic employment verification system to confirm an employee's employment eligibility.

While ICE agents say there has been no indication that the illegal immigrants arrested in recent sweeps have had terrorist ties, the potential is there. If unsophisticated, uneducated migrant workers can figure out how to subvert criminal laws, certainly sophisticated terrorist organizations can. In addition, these workers, who broke federal laws to enter the United States and to obtain their jobs, are open to coercion by terrorists seeking to use them to carry out their deeds.

It's much easier and cost-effective to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining jobs in sensitive and secure areas than it is to investigate and arrest them once they're inside. The program is already in place. We only need to implement it.

-- Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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