One of the hottest political issues among grassroots people is immigration. A common refrain among people I hear— on conservative talk radio and elsewhere—is that the solution to illegal immigration is to strengthen the borders and stop employers from hiring undocumented workers. This all sounds good but existing law doesn’t allow this to happen; at least not from the employer’s perspective.
The stereotype is that employers will seek-out illegals to work for them and then pay them three bucks an hour in cash and send them on their way. While this probably does happen, my experience doing payroll in the construction industry is quite different. I would like to interject my experience into the public record.
Employers are extremely hampered in dealing with job applicants. This is because both state and federal laws prohibit employers from any discretion in evaluating documents of job applicants. If you agree to hire someone and they can provide you with the necessary documents required for the I-9 form required by the INS and a social security number then the job applicant has met the requirements for being hired. It is illegal to reject an applicant that provides you with these documents. (There is no requirement to see the social security card just that the employee gives you a number.)
At the company where I work, we pay most of our employees that work in the field $20 per hour. They are covered by both worker compensation and liability insurance. They are even eligible for medical, dental and other insurances. All taxes are paid to the appropriate state and federal agencies. This is hardly the slave wages alleged in most horror stories about exploiting illegals.
There are two instances when potentially fraudulent documents are ever brought to the attention of employers. One is when an employer gets a wage garnishment for an employee that they have never heard of before. The problem is that the names don’t match but the social security numbers are identical. Conclusion, our employee is probably not legit. When notified, there are two responses that you will get. Usually the questionable employee suddenly quits.
Occasionally, the employee pays the garnishment and continues on at his present job.
The second time that an employer has an idea that an employee has questionable documentation is when once a year, they get a letter from the Social Security Administration that informs them that some of the names submitted on the previous years’ W-2s don’t match the names in their records. At my current employer this is over thirty people. I have tried verifying names and social security numbers in our records (we keep copies of all documents submitted for employment) and submitting them per the instructions provided by SSA but not one name that I submitted was accepted by the SSA.
Supposedly, the SSA has the ability to verify names and social security numbers on a pass/fail basis but this system is worthless. Some of our employees have six or seven names on their I-9 documents. In a computer system that only accepts first name, middle initial and last name how do you enter a name like JOSE DE JESUS CONTRERAS DE LA GUADALUPE?
How will the entry on my employee’s W-2 ever match a social security card with a name like that? Answer: it can’t. Ever. This renders the verification system of the Social Security Administration totally useless. Due to privacy laws and worries of identity theft, they will not help you if a name does not match. It is clear that our government is not setup to deal with Hispanic names and neither is my ten thousand dollar accounting program.
The Social Security Administration could easily give their list of questionable employees to the immigration people for verification but they don’t. In addition, the SSA instructions specifically state that it is illegal to terminate any employee whose name appears in the letter.
I have never known any employer who has been checked by any government agency to verify their I-9 forms or any other employee documents. In fact, employers are not required to keep copies of the documents used for the I-9s; they simply have to see them and sign the appropriate form verifying that they saw the necessary documents. There are two categories of documents that can be used; the usual combination of documents are a social security card and drivers license but others are also acceptable.
The bottom line is that if a prospective hire has the proper documents then they must be treated the same as any other employee. Only the government has the right to challenge their validity. Going after employers as a means of solving illegal immigration is a straw-man argument. If the employer gets the documents at time of hire, then the person is hired. Citizenship or immigration status has no effect on the hiring process. That is the law. Only Congress can change it and they are very reluctant to do their job.