Tough new regs target SSN fraud

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: A new Homeland Security bill signed by President Bush today aims to tighten screening of air and sea cargo. It requires inspection of all freight on passenger planes within three years. And it sets a five-year goal of scanning all container ships for nuclear devices before they leave foreign ports.

The Bush Administration failed to convince Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration system. And now the Department of Homeland Security looks to be making good on a promise to crack down on its own. It wants to target illegal immigrants using fake Social Security numbers

But as Marketplace's Dan Grech reports from the Americas Desk at WLRN, the effort could ensnare millions of legal U.S. citizens as well.


Dan Grech: For years, there's been an unspoken agreement between employers and illegal workers. The workers offered up fake documents and employers didn't check 'em out.

Now that arrangement could cost both parties dearly. The immigrants could get fired, and the employers could get fined — up to $10,000 per worker, per incident.

Steve Camarota: What's really puzzling here is why wasn't this done before?

Steve Camarota is with the Center for Immigration Studies.

Camarota: We let millions of people work in the United States work on bogus or made-up and clerical-error Social Security numbers. But nothing was ever done about it.

Camarota estimates more than half of illegal workers in the U.S. use fraudulent Social Security numbers. That's a good 4 million people. Under the new policy, employers have 60 days to verify a Social Security number, or can the worker.

Kathleen Campbell Walker: We're talking about undocumented working in a environment of fear. We're going to have employers working in the same environment of fear.

Kathleen Campbell Walker is president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She says a recent spate of immigration raids has already led many employers to scrutinize the I-9 forms used to establish worker eligibility.

Walker: Employers are trying to proactively take a hard look at their I-9s. And what they'd rather have is an easy fix.

These new rules could cause headaches for legitimate workers as well.An estimated 12.7 million U.S. citizens have errors in their records and could be caught in the crackdown.

I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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