National Immigration Forum

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Verification Without the Ways or Means

May 06, 2008 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Today’s hearing in the House Committee on Ways and Means on mandatory electronic employment verificationthrew some cold water on Members of Congress who have been pressing, zombie-like, for mandatory verification of employment authorization.

The most compelling testimony came from Barbara Kennelly, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Social Security advocacy group. Ms. Kennelly, a former member of Congress, talked about the impact of verification schemes now being considered by Congress on the Social Security Administration (SSA): 

These proposals would divert SSA from its central mission of serving its own beneficiaries and would ask it instead to create a national employment verification system, using SSA databases and employees, to confirm the employment status of every American worker.

The problem, she noted in her testimony, is that Congress does not have a good track record for pairing new mandates with new resources.  Another witness, Greg Heineman, President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, Inc., estimated that if the current E-Verify system were to be expanded nationwide (as proposed in the SAVE Act, for example), it would add an additional burden to the Social Security Administration of 889 work years to process the requests.  Work authorization checks would be added to the workload of an agency that is so backlogged in making disability determinations that the average wait is more than 500 days! 

And if that doesn’t sound challenging enough, Ms. Kennelly noted that,

…the front edge of the Baby Boom generation is just beginning to move into its retirement years. In January, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, the nation’s first Baby Boomer, applied for Social Security retirement benefits. …she will be followed by nearly 80 million additional Boomers who will also expect swift and accurate processing of their retirement claims.

It is no wonder that the AARP recently expressed grave concern about proposals to expand the SSA’s role in conducting verifications of employment authorization.

Ms. Kennelly noted that it took advocates years before Congress (last year) appropriated some additional funds to allow SSA to increase its output to slow the growth of the backlog in disability claims.  Putting down her prepared text in the middle of her testimony, she practically begged the Committee members not to burden the agency with a new workload.

“We are all embarrassed about the backlog,” she said. The new Commissioner was doing his best, but if E-Verify on a national scale is made part of the mandate of the SSA, progress in claims determinations will halt. “I have never felt as strongly about anything in a long time,” she said.

If members of Congress think they hear too much from constituents who are upset about illegal immigration, wait until seniors can’t get their Social Security checks because the SSA is too busy checking into the work authorization of those who are still working.

The hearing was the first of several planned on immigration, employment verification, and related issues.  A Forum Press Release about these hearings was picked up today in the Orange County Register.

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