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Stateside: Something EEV-Al This Way Comes

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Something EEV-Al This Way Comes

You learn quickly in American politics that where there's smoke there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. For all the fiery rhetoric that has been surrounding the immigration debate this past week, the real nub of the issue has been completely off the news radar.

Any lingering hopes I had of that being rectified were dashed this morning when veteran newsman Bob Schieffer didn't even pick up on the mention that was made of it on his Sunday talking heads show Face the Nation. And the person who mentioned it was none less than the creator of the EEVal himself, Representative Sensenbrenner, who said:

"the House-passed bill, which has been condemned across the country, sets up a program of verifying the accuracy of Social Security numbers in a way similar to the way a merchant verifies the accuracy of a credit card. It will be a computerized system, and if an employer finds that the person has got a hot Social Security card, if they hire them they're going to have the boom dropped on them, and they should."

In one fell swoop, the Employment Eligibility Verification System will turn a form which the Department of Homeland Security's immigration wing requires all employers to fill out for their employees--US citizens included--into the equivalent of a national identity card, and employers into border patrol agents.

The way EEVS will work is that an 800 number will be set up which employers can call 24/7 to check the validity of the employment authorization documents that every employee must produce for their Form I-9 clearance.

A Basic Pilot Program involving verification checks of the SSA and DHS databases has been in operation since November 1997, starting in the five key immigration states of California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York. Legislation signed by the President on December 3, 2003, extended the Basic Pilot Program until November 2008, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The Basic Pilot was something employers could voluntarily opt into, using the Internet. The legislation currently under consideration makes participation in EEVS compulsory.

In 2002, the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University issued its report on how successfully, or otherwise, the Basic Pilot was operating. Some of the conclusions contained in the summary version of the report were: the accuracy and timeliness of the immigration department's data needed to be improved; the system was used predominantly by large employers, with smaller employers having no interest in it; and employers do not always follow federally mandated safeguards.

Among the failed safeguards were those regarding the protection of employee privacy, and a requirement to inform employees of their rights.

But most telling of all the survey's findings was that "44 percent of employees receiving a final nonconfirmation were still working for the employer when the survey was conducted, more than 6 months after they were hired." Hence Rep. Sensenbrenner's call for a dropping of the boom.

Perhaps that lack of compliance on the part of employers stems from the lack of trust they have in the accuracy of the data being used to verify a person's eligibility. As the report also states:

"When government databases are inaccurate and outdated, the greatest burden falls on employees. Without reliable data with which to immediately determine work authorization, employees may be penalized by employers who are unsure of their work status."

EEVS is not just EEV-al; it's unworkable. But in true American fashion, under cover of the smokescreen "Us v. Them" immigration debate, yet another piece of bad legislation will be enacted just to get politicians re-elected.

Wake up and smell the Kafka!



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