GAO: Identity fraud rampant
Feds failing to provide verifiable papers
By Lisa Friedman, Washington Bureau
Rampant identity fraud continues to hinder efforts to verify employees' immigration status in the U.S. despite eight years of federal promises to fix the problem, a federal audit released Wednesday says.
The increasing use of fake documents also is making it harder for immigration officials to enforce workplace laws, the Government Accountability Office found.
In 2004, three employers were threatened with sanctions for failing to properly verify a worker's eligibility - compared with 419 the previous year. Arrests in that time declined 84 percent.
Meanwhile, a 1997 proposal by the federal government to curb deception by limiting the types of documents an employee is allowed to present went nowhere. The Department of Homeland Security said the plan is under review, but gave no timeline for finishing it.
"The current employment verification process has not fundamentally changed since its establishment in 1986, and ongoing weaknesses in the process have undermined its effectiveness," auditors wrote.
Now, as Southland Republican lawmakers seek to expand a volunteer program that helps companies prove their employees are legal U.S. residents or citizens, investigators warned that the failure to address long-standing problems could undermine its success.
Currently, the Department of Homeland Security runs the Basic Pilot Program - which began in California and now allows employers in all 50 states to voluntarily check a worker's Social Security card or other documents against government records.
But auditors noted that the program is unable to determine whether an employee is using someone else's Social Security card. While that could be fixed by using fingerprints or biometric checks, the Department of Homeland Security hasn't done that yet.
About 4,200 employers use the program, which equals about 22,000 work sites across the country, immigration officials said
Wednesday. State-by-state numbers were not available, but officials said California ranks second after Texas with the most volunteers.
A bill by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, would make the program mandatory. Calvert said in a statement Wednesday that he agrees with the GAO findings that the government must address document fraud in order for a permanent, mandatory program to succeed.
"There is a growing consensus in America that we must improve our employee verification system and turn off the job magnet, which is the major cause of illegal immigration," Calvert said. "I would like to see their recommendations implemented by the Department of Homeland Security."
Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, a supporter of Calvert's bill, said, "The GAO has confirmed what we've been preaching for years. Now we need to do something about it."
Rep. David Dreier, R-Glendora, who has advocated development of a tamper-free Social Security card that employers can use to verify a worker's eligibility, said in a statement, "It's obvious that the current system is too jumbled, too old-fashioned and too understaffed to function effectively.
"In a post-9-11 world, that is unacceptable."
Identity fraud rampant?
Thats because illegals buy fake IDs at stores, like we would buy canned foods, they ARE criminals
Store sold fake IDs, probe finds
Phony cards for illegal aliens focus of area task force's inquiry.
A Spotsylvania County business is the target of a regional investigation into fake identification cards for illegal immigrants.
Video Tienda La Milagro at 11503 Tidewater Trail near Shannon Airport has been under investigation for the past eight months, court records show.
A raid at the business this week resulted in just one misdemeanor arrest, but authorities say their probe is ongoing.
According to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Spotsylvania Circuit Court, the probe began when a deputy made a traffic stop in the parking lot outside the Video Tienda La Milagro.
The deputy noticed a sign in the store window indicating that ID cards were available there.
The deputy drove around the block and when he came back, the sign was gone.
That information was reported to the Rappahannock Regional Gang/Drug/Terrorism Task Force, a newly formed group that includes federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies.
On March 8, the affidavit states, Spotsylvania Sgt. Jose Vazquez entered the business and asked to have an identification made. He told store employees that he was from the Dominican Republic and was in this country illegally.
An employee charged Vazquez $80 and took his picture. Vazquez was told to return in about five days for the finished ID, which workers assured him would be sufficient for Vazquez to receive the free medical treatment he told them he was seeking.
Vazquez returned to the store on March 12, but the ID was not ready. He finally picked up the card on April 1 and turned it over to a task force member.
Vazquez went back to the store on Aug. 25, this time seeking a Social Security card. He was told to come back a few days later because the person he needed to speak with would be working then.
Vazquez noticed a flier in the store that advertised identification cards for Washington and Maryland, court records state.
Two days later, Vazquez returned and was told that the people who used to make the Social Security cards had moved back to Mexico. The flier that Vazquez had noticed on the 25th was still there.
During the recent raid, six fake ID cards were seized, along with cameras, a computer and various documents. Four of the fake cards were Virginia IDs; the other two were for Maryland and Washington.
A 24-year-old store clerk was charged with unauthorized use of the seal of Virginia, a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Six people inside the store at the time of the raid were turned over to federal officials with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Spotsylvania sheriff's Deputy Robin Kocher said.
They were taken to Pamunkey Regional Jail pending deportation hearings, Kocher said.