Union Tribune

April 11, 2003

Employers accept fake documents, official says
Fraud is ignored for cheap labor


WASHINGTON An official from a federal watchdog agency yesterday said U.S. employers were willing accomplices of illegal aliens who use phony documents to get work.

Richard M. Stana of the General Accounting Office told a congressional immigration panel that many employers, who are required by federal law to check a prospective employee's Social Security card or other identity papers, knowingly accept counterfeit documents.

"Oftentimes employers don't want to know," Stana told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims. "It's a source of cheap labor, so they'll look at the card and say, 'That looks good to me.' "

The panel also heard from Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, who said he is working with the Social Security Administration in an effort to devise methods to block fraudulent use of Social Security cards.

Counterfeit cards are readily available on city street corners across the country, provided by a phony document industry that was one of the unintended consequences of landmark 1986 immigration legislation.

The 1986 act, best known for providing amnesty for about 3 million illegal aliens, also established sanctions for employers who knowingly hired persons not authorized to work in the country. But the phony documents, combined with spotty enforcement efforts by federal immigration authorities and the eagerness of employers to save on labor costs, have undercut the effort to stop the flow of illegal immigration, according to officials.

Stana provided a detailed and stinging critique of government efforts to enforce immigration laws beyond the border. Federal "interior enforcement" has been marred by weak strategy, poor administration, lack of coordination between agencies and inadequate staffing, he said.

Stana noted that the government historically has "devoted over five times more resources in terms of staff and budget on border enforcement than on interior enforcement." That 5 to 1 ratio also applies to the work forces of the Border Patrol and the immigration agents assigned to interior enforcement.

The subcommittee also heard from an advocate of strict immigration controls, who warned that proposals to allow workers to enter the country on a temporary basis also would encourage illegal immigration. He was countered by a proponent of immigration, who said the economy's demand for cheap labor is what really drives illegal immigration.