Recently a major food processor in the Northwest was the subject of a raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency and 600 employees were checked for their immigration status and legal right to work in the U.S. Only 48 of those employees turned out to have a legal and valid Social Security number and were eligible to work in the U.S.
Another raid on a mid-size company in the Northeast with 650 employees and government contracts worth millions of dollars resulted in the arrest and deportation of over 300 illegal workers and the arrest of the company president and two executives on criminal charges. These and many other recent examples are proof positive that the government is getting serious about the right to work in the U.S. and is handing out stiff penalties and fines for organizations found to have hired illegal immigrants.
The federal government is taking very seriously the potential national security risks posed by illegal immigration, and in an effort to decrease it, is conducting more expansive raids on employers and enforcing immigration and employment eligibility laws more stringently, according to Darlene Baker, senior product manager, I-9 Solution and DHS E-Verify, HireRight. In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) has created E-Verify, an online national database of individuals who can legally work in the U.S., as a tool that employers can use to verify the employment eligibility status of employees. In addition, the federal government is working with motor vehicle departments across the country to obtain photos to add to the E-Verify database to create another layer of security and identity verification into the system for the future.
Verifying employment eligibility status has traditionally been handled by the human resources department and simply involved having the employee fill out a federal I-9 form and provide supporting documentation to establish identity and employment eligibility. In today’s world of heightened security concerns, however, that process is no longer sufficient and companies must be more vigilant to protect their personnel, facilities, systems and assets. Security executives at enterprises must be involved in this process to ensure that organizations are only allowing authorized individuals on site. After all, if you don’t know if the worker you are allowing on site is legal, how well could you know them or their past?
DRIVING SECURITY CONCERNSThere are great risks in not confirming an individual’s legal right to work. There have been cases of known and suspected terrorists entering the country illegally and chief security officers must understand and guard against the possibility that a person with malicious intent could obtain access to critical infrastructures or assets, such as power plants or chemical or water treatment systems through employment. Recently, it was discovered that illegal workers had access or attempted to gain access to a shipyard where U.S. Navy vessels were being built.
Industrial espionage is also a risk in the fact that an illegal employee with an unknown background could gain access to sensitive information and technologies. The bottom line is when an individual uses fraudulent documents to get a job, they hide their true identity and history, which means that the employer knows less about the worker, which increases risk. Validating a person’s name, Social Security number and employment eligibility through E-Verify is just one more step to ensure the identity of employees and confirm a person’s background.
HISTORICAL AND LEGAL REQUIREMENTSRecently there’s been a flurry of high-profile legislation directed at ensuring the legal status of employees. The DHS E-Verify database is a key element of a variety of immigration reform plans that have been hotly debated at both the federal and state levels over the past few years. In August 2007, an Executive Order from the President mandated use of the E-Verify system for all companies with federal government contracts, and an estimated 200,000 government contractors are affected.
In addition, all 50 states have considered some form of immigration legislation and many include sections on employment eligibility. Five states, Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma, have already passed legislation that specifically includes mandates to verify employment eligibility through E-Verify and several more states are currently considering such legislation.
CHALLENGES AND BEST PRACTICES FOR I-9 PROGRAM MANAGEMENTTraditionally, the I-9 program has been a paper-intensive, manual process and adding the DHS E-Verify requirement to the mix further complicates the procedure. As a paper-based process, I-9 management is inefficient, lacks good tracking, follow up and reporting systems and offers a high potential for human error and even duplicity or fraud. A good alternative to a paper-based I-9 process is to adopt an electronic I-9 solution, which will help to reduce data entry errors and ensure the form is completed properly.
It’s also important to establish a compliant I-9 management program that addresses the security requirements for the employer and meets state and federal legislation. Use of the DHS E-Verify system for all new hires should be a part of any compliant I-9 program, advised HireRight's Baker.
There are several steps to be considered. First, it’s important to walk new hires through the completion of an I-9 form and ensure the employee presents the proper documentation to establish identity and employment eligibility. Second, employment eligibility then must be confirmed through DHS E-Verify and reports of the results must be maintained along with the employee’s I-9 form. The organization must also ensure it has processes in place to end employment legally if the employee is ineligible.
Once eligibility has been confirmed, it’s important to set up alerts to manage work authorization expirations so employers can follow up on those procedures, obtain new documents as needed and keep the employment records updated. An electronic I-9 form, complete with an automated and instant E-Verify check, should be part of every employer’s I-9 management program. An additional consideration is that the I-9 program be integrated with the organization’s employment screening program to leverage existing data and systems and to streamline processes.
One key area of vulnerability that can trip up many organizations is in terms of the extended workforce. There should be a security procedure in place to confirm that employees of partners and vendors who have access to an organization’s facilities, staff and systems are also vetted through E-Verify.
Amid today’s critical security concerns, organizations must implement a comprehensive I-9 management program to avoid hiring those with fraudulent documentation who are ineligible to work legally in the U.S. The security department must take a lead in this process to help ensure the organization’s safety, security and compliance with the law.