Illegal Aliens:

Significant Obstacles to Reducing Unauthorized Alien Employment Exist

GGD-99-33: Published: Apr 2, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 1999.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Attorney General's strategy for enforcing workplace immigration laws, focusing on: (1) the effectiveness of the employment verification process in preventing employers from hiring unauthorized aliens; (2) the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) efforts to improve the employment verification process; (3) the level of effort INS and the Department of Labor (DOL) devoted to worksite enforcement activities and the results of these activities; and (4) changes being made to INS' worksite enforcement program.

GAO noted that: (1) the effectiveness of the employment verification process, which relies on identity and employment eligibility documents that employees are to show employers, can be undermined by unauthorized aliens using fraudulent documents; (2) INS has undertaken several initiatives to improve the employment verification process to make it less susceptible to fraud, but significant obstacles remain; (3) INS is testing or expects to test three pilot programs in which employers electronically verify an employee's eligibility to work; (4) INS has made little progress toward its goal of reducing the number of documents that employers can accept to determine employment eligibility; (5) in February 1998, INS issued proposed regulations to reduce the number of documents that can be used from 27 to 14; (6) however, INS received numerous comments on the proposed regulations and INS officials do not know when these regulations will be finalized; (7) INS has begun issuing new documents with increased security features, which INS hopes will make it easier for employers to verify the documents' authenticity; (8) however, aliens are statutorily permitted to show employers various documents other than the INS documents that authorize aliens to work, and other widely used documents do not have the security features of the INS documents; (9) since 1994, INS has devoted about 2 percent of its enforcement workyears to its worksite enforcement program, which is designed to detect noncompliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act; (10) in 1998, INS completed about 6,500 investigations of employers, which equated to about 3 percent of the country's estimated number of employers of unauthorized aliens; (11) DOL has provided limited assistance to INS in identifying employers suspected of hiring unauthorized workers, and, under a new agreement with INS, DOL's role will be reduced; (12) the results of INS' worksite enforcement program that indicate it has infrequently imposed sanctions on employers; (13) INS is changing its approach to worksite enforcement; (14) INS has developed an interior enforcement strategy with five strategic priorities; (15) two of the priorities involve worksite enforcement, with one calling for INS to pursue the criminal investigation of employers who are flagrant or grave violators; and (16) since INS is just beginning this new approach, it is too soon to know how the proposed changes will be implemented or to assess their impact on the employment of unauthorized workers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1999, INS distributed information pamphlets on its pilot programs to 25 Department of Labor Offices in 13 states that agreed to disseminate the pamphlets to employers with whom they have business.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of INS, as a part of the outreach program for INS' pilot programs, should seek assistance from federal and state agencies, such as DOL and Department of State labor agencies, in disseminating information to employers about the programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 20, 1999, INS issued a Worksite Enforcement Policies memorandum and in July 2000 published a revised chapter of its Special Agents Field Manual clarifying the criteria for opening investigations of employers suspected of criminal activities.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of INS, in implementing the interior enforcement strategy, should clarify the criteria for opening investigations of employers suspected of criminal activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service


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