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AMI Tells Congress That Employment And Immigration Laws Are In Urgent Need Of Reform

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The employment and immigration laws that govern the hiring and employment process are dysfunctional and in urgent need of reform, according to AMI Senior Vice President for Legislative Affairs Mike Brown, who testified today to the House Committee on Agriculture on the labor needs of American agriculture.

In his testimony, Brown told the Committee that the government’s failure to enact legislation solving this problem is especially frustrating for employers in the nation’s meat and poultry industry, who have been at the forefront of the efforts to bring integrity to employment authorization verification process enacted by Congress in the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986.

“Given these enforcement efforts, many AMI members took steps to more carefully scrutinize employment authorization documents and, ironically, faced discrimination charges under the unfair immigration-related employment practice provisions of IRCA for being too vigilant in seeking to employ legally authorized workers,” Brown said. “Needless to say, AMI members were and continue to be frustrated by the vice in which they find themselves in trying to comply with IRCA’s inherently contradictory provisions. Employers are required to walk an impossible legal tightrope due to the law’s failure to provide "bright lines" for compliance.”

After it became apparent that the paper-based employment authorization process was woefully inadequate to screen out fraudulent employment documents, Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) in 1996, establishing the Basic Pilot telephonic and electronic employment verification program. This program was voluntary and was intended to screen out fraudulent social security numbers and alien work authorization documents provided by job applicants to employers at the time of hire.

AMI and its members have taken the initiative to address the problems with employment and immigration laws, Brown noted, citing a successful effort in 1999 to extend the scope of the Basic Pilot telephonic and electronic employment verification program beyond the original five pilot states to include the State of Nebraska, where many AMI members are located. This enabled a number of meatpacking companies to enter into agreements with INS to participate in the Basic Pilot program.

However, Brown said the experience of AMI members participating in the Basic Pilot program has been mixed.

“The use of the Basic Pilot program by law-abiding companies that went the extra mile to seek a legal workforce has not served them well,” Brown said. “It will continue as an inadequate system until Congress takes steps to correct its deficiencies.”

Brown asked the Committee for support of AMI’s efforts to extend and improve the Basic Pilot program, so that it will better serve its intended purpose of screening out fraudulent documents and imposters using stolen identity and work authorization documents.

“It is imperative that Congress undertake this effort now, as the Basic Pilot expires in a year (September 2008) and the problems associated with its failures are accelerating as DHS increases its worksite enforcement activities,” Brown said.

Specifically, Brown told the Committee, extension and improvement of the Basic Pilot program consistent with the following four principles is among AMI’s highest legislative priorities:

1. Individuals engaged in identity theft must be detected at the time of hire. The program must be improved to detect when there are duplicate active records in the SSA database evidencing that an employee’s name and social security number are being used in multiple places at the same time. In addition to the current Basic Pilot program, employers should be allowed to participate on a voluntary basis in a separate verification program that uses a biometric technology to determine whether the person presenting a work authorization and identity document is in fact the person to whom the document relates. The technology exists and should be used in a pilot program targeted at identity fraud.

2. The number of documents that an employer must accept for purposes of determining whether a person is authorized to work and their identity must be reduced to avoid confusion and identity fraud.

3. DHS and SSA must be given the resources to ensure that individual status changes are current so that verification checks will have “real time” accuracy and avoid the delays and administrative burdens that accompany non-confirmation or incorrect confirmation of worker eligibility.

4. Employers that comply with electronic eligibility verification requirements under the Basic Pilot program must be provided adequate protection from both DHS enforcement actions, as well as discrimination lawsuits that may result if employees are terminated after employers have properly complied with program requirements.

“AMI urges the introduction of legislation this year that will achieve the above-described objectives by extending the Basic Pilot program for an additional five years beyond its current expiration date,” Brown told the Committee. “As in past extensions of the Basic Pilot program, we anticipate that the legislation will enjoy broad bipartisan support. AMI believes that an improved program must remain voluntary until such time as Congress enacts broad comprehensive immigration reform that allows adequate legal channels for foreign workers when there are shortages of U.S. workers and effectively addresses the undocumented worker population already working in this country.”

“While we recognize that immigration reform is inherently controversial and politically challenging, we believe that your support of the extension and improvement of the Basic Pilot program so that it more effectively solves the problem of illegal immigration in the work place is sound public policy. It also is the fair thing to do for those employers that have gone the extra mile to comply with our laws by using the Basic Pilot program, as well as consistent with the will of the American people who want our laws effectively enforced,” Brown concluded.

To read Brown’s testimony in its entirety, click here: http://www.meatinstitute.org/storylinks/2007/BrownTestimony100407.pdf

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