United States Commission on Immigration Reform

Testimony of Susan Martin
Executive Director, U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
U.S. Senate
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
March 14, 1995

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of Professor Barbara Jordan, our Chair, and the 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, the Commission sought to recommend a comprehensive strategy. We chose to focus much of that report on measures to control illegal immigration, because growing frustration about it undermines our first commitment to legal immigration in the national interest.

S.269, introduced by the Majority Leader on behalf of Senator Simpson, tracks the Commission recommendations closely in many areas that are critical to a comprehensive approach-worksite verification, increasing penalties for alien smuggling and document fraud, border management, and bringing eligibility for public assistance into line with the goals of our immigration policy.

The Commissioners deeply appreciate the support which this Subcommittee has provided, on a bipartisan basis, to the Commission. Professor Barbara Jordan, our Chair, not only regretted that she could not be here personally today, she instructed me to offer the Commission's assistance to the Subcommittee in any way we can be helpful as you move forward with this legislation.

Let me sum up the Commission's reasons for proposing that we develop a better system for worksite verification. 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.

Better border enforcement is necessary, but not sufficient. Visa overstayers make up fully one-half of the influx of illegal aliens, 150,000 out of 300,000 who take up permanent residence here illegally every year, on top of an illegal population that exceeds 4 million already. No amount of border enforcement can solve that half of the problem-the people who enter legally and then do not leave when they should.

We simply must develop a better system for verifying work authorization. That is central to effective enforcement of employer sanctions.

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.

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 pretences, 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 we must develop a better system of worksite verification and that the way to do it is through pilot testing. 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 examined the Telephone Verification System, called TVS, which the INS has been testing. We are aware that the INS will expand this system, first from 9 to 200 sites, and eventually to 1,000 sites. We support this INS effort-but only as an interim measure. It is not the solution.

The fatal flaw in the TVS system is that it ultimately depends on self-attestation. Workers are asked whether they are citizens or aliens. It is simply not sound law enforcement to rely on lawbreakers to tell the truth.

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 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. But we did speak to some of the most important aspects.

First, focus on those areas with the largest numbers of illegal aliens. The Commission recommends that pilot projects be undertaken in the five high-impact states-California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois. We also recommend that, in time, the pilots should be extended to several less-affected states. But we did not recommend that the registry be tested throughout all of the five states immediately, nor even in all of any one of the states. Pilot projects should start small. Before going to the next phase, we should have results to guide us.

Second, there must be objective, systematic evaluation of the pilot programs. We hope that this Committee will add its voice to this recommendation. The 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:

An evaluation of pilot program results 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.

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 further 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.

Those are the Commission's recommendations on worksite verification.

Let me add one more note about worksite enforcement. While improved verification is essential, there are interim steps that can be taken to reduce the magnet that jobs present for illegal aliens. The Commission recommends:

Together, these and other strategies recommended by the Commission should help make jobs attractive to U.S. workers, while identifying and penalizing employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

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 have appreciated this Subcommittee's support and consideration of our work.

I will be glad to answer any questions.

USCIR Homepage
Last update August 15, 1996