Monday, December 31, 2007
James Pinkerton writes in The Houston Chronicle:
Starting the day after Christmas, every employer in America must use a new employment verification form that immigration officials say will help reduce document fraud.
To comply with a 1996 law, the new I-9 form drops five documents from the list that employers could use to verify employees' identities and work eligibility.
But for now, the new I-9 form is not expected to present significant problems when it becomes mandatory today, according to government officials, immigration experts in Houston and the nation's largest employer.
''We're anticipating a smooth transition from the old form to the new one,' said Chris Bentley, a spokesman with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington. ''It's one we've publicized to the employer community, one they know is coming, and it's as simple as downloading the new form and using that."
Bentley said the decade-long delay in implementing the form was due to the transition from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service to the USCIS, part of the federal reorganization that created the Department of Homeland Security.
The documents' removal ''has to do with frequency of how they can be fraudulently produced,' he said.
At Wal-Mart, the nation's largest employer with 1.3 million workers, there have been ''no issues' raised by the revised document, said spokeswoman Sharon Weber.
The new form took effect Nov. 7, but did not become mandatory until last week.
In Houston, veteran immigration attorney Gordon Quan said the I-9 will have minimal impact on existing employment verification procedures.
''We knew these amendments were going to happen,' he said. ''It's an update of the form. ... I don't think the excluded documents will affect very many people.'
The five excluded documents are all immigration forms, including certificates of U.S. citizenship and naturalization, that government officials believed could be counterfeited. The new form retains five documents that establish identity and employment eligibility, including the U.S. passport and the so-called Green Card or permanent resident card.
The new I-9 form must be used for employees hired after Nov. 7, 2007, but existing workers who have the old I-9 on file do not have to fill out new forms. Civil penalties remain unchanged and range from fines of $250 to $2,000 for a first offense of knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant, and $100 to $1,000 for paperwork errors.
Companies don't have to submit the forms to the government but are required to have an I-9 available for inspection for every employee hired after November 1986. The company officials must also certify that supporting identity documents presented by their employee ''appear to be genuine.'
On the I-9 form, an employee's Social Security card is only required when a company participates in the government's voluntary E-Verify program. This pilot program allows employers to electronically check the card's number against Social Security Administration and immigration databases.
'It's just housekeeping'
''We realize employers aren't forensic document examiners,' said Bentley, the USCIS spokesman. ''Their responsibility is to look and make their best estimate as to whether a person is authorized to work, and
E-Verify takes that process a step further.'
In October, a federal judge blocked new Department of Homeland Security regulations that would force employers to fire an estimated 8 million workers whose names did not match their Social Security numbers. Labor unions and business groups sued to stop the ''No Match' rules, citing liability to businesses and hardship to workers who couldn't correct errors in Social Security in time to avoid dismissal.
Elaine Morley, a Houston immigration attorney, said the new I-9 form will not make a ''material difference' in efforts to reduce unlawful employment since the government has long advised against using the five excluded documents.
''It's just housekeeping by the federal government,' said Morley, who is chief executive officer of Lookout Services Inc., which has sold software systems for I-9 management and
E-Verify checks to more than 4,000 companies.
However, Morley says the government is planning to propose regulations that will further exclude allowable identity documents and predicts a firestorm of criticism and court challenges.
''They're touting that they're going to make significant changes to documents that are available, but in my opinion they don't have a lot of wiggle room in the documents they can remove,' said Morley.
But she's not complaining about any changes.
''Every piece of legislation has proposed changes to greatly increase these penalties as a deterrent,' she said. ''The phone rings off the hook every time they start talking about increasing enforcement and increasing fines. It's scaring people.'