ACLU Questions Newly Extended Employment Eligibility Verification System; Says Flaws in Databases Hurt Hard-Working Non-Citizens, Threaten Privacy

December 4, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized the recent under-the-radar expansion in Congress of a flawed system to check whether job applicants are eligible to work in the United States. Most troubling, the ACLU said, is that incorrect and outdated information will unfairly deny jobs to many eligible applicants and that the law threatens to permit privacy violations through misuse of the system.

“As unassuming as it might appear, this law will result in tens of thousands of people in the United States being unfairly denied work,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Worse, it will disproportionately impact hard-working and law-abiding immigrant communities who have little political voice.”

The law, an extension of a five-state 1996 pilot program, allows employers direct access to Social Security and Homeland Security Department databases to verify whether a potential employee is in fact permitted to work in America. While the system is voluntary, employers have a strong incentive to check up on their applicants because of a 1986 law that imposes heavy sanctions on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants.

Since the pilot program began, a number of serious flaws in the system have been revealed, none of which are corrected in the expansion of the system now awaiting the President’s signature. Because the system’s databases are rife with errors and outdated information, it has already resulted in hundreds of people being denied work unfairly, and promises to similarly block the employment of many thousands more.

Even worse, under the new expansion, it is unclear what recourse applicants who get tagged with an erroneous “tentative non-confirmation” will have to correct their records (and whether that would then change the rejected applicant’s prospects for getting the job).

Originally implemented in California, Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, New York and Florida, the Basic Pilot Act Extension of 2003 expands the program to all 50 states and the District of Columbia and provides for its operation over the next five years. The system has never been formally evaluated and its expansion was not examined in committee.

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