Report: Employment Verification System Inefficient, Ineffective, and Costly

Below is the executive summary of the Immigration Policy Center report, "The Social Security Administration No-Match Program: Inefficient, Ineffective, and Costly" Read the complete report in pdf.

The failure of congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and the Bush administration’s subsequent stepping up of immigration enforcement, have resulted in deficient policies that do not address the issue of unauthorized immigration, but do cause extreme hardship to U.S. workers, businesses, communities, and the economy. Soon after the 2007 Bush Administration backed immigration-reform bill failed in the U.S. Senate, the Administration redirected its efforts with respect to unauthorized immigration into more vigorous enforcement along the border and in the workplace.

Eager to demonstrate they could be tough, the Administration dusted off a proposed regulation, which had first been made public about a year earlier, to use Social Security administration (SSA) “no-match” letters as a tool for identifying unauthorized workers. Final regulations were issued in august 2007, but were subsequently enjoined by a Federal Judge who found that they would “result in irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers.” 

SSA no-match letters are sent to workers and employers in an attempt to correct discrepancies in SSA’s records that prevent workers from receiving credit for their earnings. They were not designed to be an immigration enforcement tool, and historically they have never been used for immigration-enforcement purposes. In fact, for years, SSA has been clear that no-match letters are not a proxy for immigration status, and that there are many legitimate reasons why a worker or employer might receive a no-match letter. 

Nevertheless, on March 26, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published in the Federal Register a “supplemental proposed rule” whose effect would be to force employers to fire any worker who is unable to resolve discrepancies in his or her Social Security records within three months of the employer receiving a no-match letter regarding that worker. The rule provides that if workers named in the letter are unable to correct their Social Security records within the prescribed time period, the employer must fire them or risk sanctions for violating immigration laws.

Although undocumented immigrants are among the millions of workers who receive no-match letters each year, many legal workers—including U.S. citizens—receive letters because of clerical errors, unreported name changes, and other discrepancies in their records. The new rule will not change the fact that a no-match letter is not evidence of an immigration violation. While the new no-match rule will not, and cannot, solve the problem of undocumented immigration, experience with the no-match program over the last few years indicates that turning no-match letters into an immigration-enforcement mechanism will:

  • Cause the firing of employment-authorized workers and U.S. citizens at a time when our economy is highly fragile;

  • Impose additional costs on employers;
  • Result in increased discrimination and abuses against U.S. workers; and
  • Overwhelm SSA by diverting resources away from its primary mission of administering benefits.

This report provides an overview of SSA’s no-match letter program, a summary of DHS’s new supplemental proposed rule regarding no-match letters, and an overview of the unintended consequences of no-match letters that are sent to employers. It also makes the following recommendations:

  •  Rescind DHS’s supplemental proposed rule. The 2008 supplemental proposed rule is misguided. The no-match letter program was not designed for immigration enforcement; historically, it has not been used for immigration enforcement and the harmful impact of such a policy will reverberate well beyond the immigrant community.  

  • Suspend the employer no-match letter program.  The employer no-match letter program does not effectively serve its purpose, which is to correct discrepancies in SSA’s records that prevent workers from receiving credit for their earnings. Moreover, the harmful impact of the employer no-match letters greatly outweighs any benefits derived from them.  

  • If the employer no-match letter program is not suspended, implement the following policy changes: 1.) Require DHS’s Office of the Inspector General and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, in coordination with the U.S. department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (Office of Special Counsel) and the U.S. Department of Labor, to study and report on improper use of the no-match process, the impact on U.S. citizen and lawfully present noncitizen workers, the effectiveness of alternate methods to clean up the SSA database, and whether the rule has achieved its purpose; 2.) Create a redress process for workers who suffer adverse action because their employer follows the procedures set forth in the regulation; 3.) Conduct public outreach and education on the importance of updating any name, address, or immigration-status changes due to marriage, divorce, or naturalization, and to correct any other errors within an individual’s SSA record.  

  • Congress must pass immigration reform.  Americans have been very clear that they want a tough, fair, practical solution to the problems with the U.S. immigration system. Only congress can make that solution possible. The United States needs a national immigration policy for the 21st century that addresses unauthorized immigration, meets the needs of our economy, respects the labor rights of all workers, and is consistent with American values. SSA no-match letters are no match for sound policy.

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