United States Commission on Immigration Reform

Testimony of Robert Charles Hill
Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
Before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
March 7, 1995

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of Professor Barbara Jordan, our Chair, and my fellow members of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify.

In our first report to Congress last fall, U.S. Immigration Policy: Restoring Credibility, we sought to recommend a comprehensive strategy to control illegal immigration. Growing frustration about it undermines our first commitment to legal immigration in the national interest.

We simply must develop a better system for verifying work authorization. Reducing the employment magnet is the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to reduce illegal immigration. Illegal aliens are here for jobs. That is the attraction. So the only effective way to deter illegal immigration must include the worksite. The reliability of government information is critical to this effort.

The system we have now, the I-9 process, is doubly-flawed. It does not do what it was supposed to do, namely deter the employment of illegal aliens. What it does do, we do not want-namely, burden businesses with paperwork, while creating abundant opportunities for fraud and forgeries. It may even provide an excuse for, if it does not actually provoke, discrimination against workers who happen to look or sound foreign.

At the root of these problems is the proliferation of counterfeit documents. During our investigations, the Commission learned that illegal aliens can now purchase counterfeit driver's licenses and social security cards for $25. A green card is slightly more expensive. Moreover, we also learned that counterfeits of any document-even the most tamper-resistant-would soon be on the black market. These cards could easily pass a visual check, particularly by employers who are not trained to spot counterfeits.

Honest employers are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Because the system is based on documents, employers are placed in a position of making judgments many do not feel qualified to make.

Identifying forgeries is difficult, even for trained professionals. If an employer accepts false documents presented by an unauthorized worker, that employer is vulnerable to employer sanctions for having hired someone under false pretenses, regardless of the fact that they may well have been fooled themselves. Yet, if an employer chooses to doubt particular documents and asks for more from some workers and not from others, that is discrimination.

The Commission believes that the way to develop a better system of worksite verification is immediately to test the most promising option. After examining a wide range of alternatives, the Commission concluded that the most promising option for secure, nondiscriminatory verification is a computerized registry based on the social security number.

For decades, all workers have been required to provide employers with their social security number. Depending on the results of pilot projects that are now being designed, the cumbersome I-9 process, with its dozens of documents and blizzard of paper, could be replaced by a single electronic step to validate information every worker must already provide.

The Commission also looked at the feasibility and effectiveness of reducing the number of documents used in verification. Again, we support such efforts as interim measures. But the fatal flaw here is the vulnerability of all documents to counterfeiting. We heard expert testimony that any document, even the most tamper-proof ones, can be forged so well that only experts can identify the fakes. Employers cannot be expected to identify counterfeit documents.

The Commission believes electronic validation of the Social Security Number is the most promising option because it holds great potential for accomplishing the following:

The Commission did not try to micromanage the Executive branch's implementation of this recommendation in advance. We deliberately did not spell out precisely how the software of the registry would be designed, although we did specify that just six pieces of information seem necessary: name; social security number; place and date of birth; mother's maiden name; and status code. Nor did we limit the innovation that might be applied in pilot projects to test the registry.

There must be objective, systematic evaluation of the pilot programs. This Commission expects to have meaningful results from the initial phase of pilot testing by 1997. We will incorporate these results in our final report to Congress, so that we can make an informed recommendation on whether that system should be implemented nationwide, with particular attention to civil liberties and privacy concerns. The features of pilot programs should include:

Evaluating the results of pilot programs with these criteria must include objective measures and procedures to determine whether current problems related to fraud, discrimination, and excessive paperwork requirements for employers are effectively overcome, without imposing undue costs on the government, employers, or employees. The evaluation should pay particular attention to the effectiveness of the measures used to protect civil liberties and privacy.

While we on the Commission are not the computer experts, and never pretended to be, we do recognize "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Clearly, people who obtain real documents through false pretenses pose a problem. This is true, even though the Social Security Administration does a face-to-face interview and document check on every adult who seeks a social security number, since nowadays most children receive numbers shortly after birth.

Accordingly, the Commission also recommends reducing the fraudulent access to so-called "breeder documents," particularly birth certificates, that can be used to establish an identity in this country. We recommend these steps:

The Commission also recommends imposition of greater penalties on those producing or selling fraudulent documents. RICO provisions to facilitate racketeering investigations also should cover conspiracy to produce and sell fraudulent documents.

The Commission's recommendations regarding worksite verification are an important part, but only a part, of the comprehensive approach to immigration reform that this Commission is developing. As you know, the Commission is well along in the next phase of its task, considering the national interest in legal immigration, including categories, priorities, and limits.

The key to our work so far has been that, through intense discussions, we have managed to arrive at a bipartisan consensus. We hope to continue that record in a systematic evaluation of what our immigration policy should be in the twenty-first century. In that effort, we appreciate this Subcommittee's consideration of our work.

I will be glad to answer any questions.

USCIR Homepage
Last update August 15, 1996