One of 8,000 Documents Gets Neighbors Past U.S. Border

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - A freshman Republican congressman from Texas believes Canadian, Mexican and Caribbean visitors to the United States should be required to present a passport before they are allowed into the country, just as visitors from all other countries do.

Rep. Ted Poe said it is a "human impossibility" for border control agents to check the thousands of documents currently accepted as valid identification from those three locations.

"Right now anyone arriving from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean Islands can get in based on one of 8,000 documents," Poe told Cybercast News Service. "They could include everything from baptismal certificates and birth certificates."

In the absence of "universal documentation," such as a passport, Poe is convinced that border agents are being asked to perform an impractical task at lawful entry points.

"The average border patrol agent takes about 22 seconds to determine whether or not someone is lawfully entering the U.S.," Poe said. "Sometimes they ask for paperwork, and sometimes they don't."

Poe noted that the 9/11 Commission called for mandatory passport usage by visitors from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands.

"For political reasons, this recommendation was not implemented," Poe said. "The Canadian government was very opposed."

A bill Poe previously introduced to force implementation of that recommendation was defeated, but he is making another attempt in the form of Passport for All Act (HR 4120), which is awaiting consideration by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims.

ID requirement would help curb illegal hiring

Poe also told Cybercast News Service that the absence of verifiable identification creates enormous challenges for employers who are earnestly trying to verify the legality of potential workers. He believes a passport system, coupled with visas, would help.

At the same time, Poe added, such a system would more effectively deter employers that willingly hire illegal aliens.

"Simply fining these businesses hasn't had much of an effect," Poe noted. "We need to make the consequences so severe that employers are not willing to take the chance."

Enforcement of laws against hiring illegal aliens fell off dramatically through much of the 1990s and into the early part of the 21st century, according to research made available by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that supports stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Jack Martin, special projects director for FAIR, said, for example, there were 1,492 instances of federal immigration officials investigating employers for workplace compliance in 1992. That number compares to just three such investigations in 2003.

Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acknowledge that previous efforts by the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service did not keep pace with the size and scope of worksite infractions. But, they also point to new initiatives that are aggressively targeting employers who flout immigration laws.

"The administrative fine process was not a deterrent to unscrupulous employers," said Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for ICE. "Many businesses came to view these fines as the cost of doing business."

Since 2004, enforcement efforts have been characterized by expanded investigations and greater criminal sanctions, according to ICE, the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

There were 465 investigations of worksites suspected of harboring illegal aliens in Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. Those cases yielded 160 criminal arrests, 67 indictments and 46 convictions. In addition to the immigration charges, employers are also being investigated for money laundering, which can bring felony charges.

Statistics for FY 2005 show that ICE investigations continue to gain momentum. There were 511 worksite probes that produced 176 arrests, 140 indictments and 127 convictions.

Investigators are also using a variety of new tools and resources to discourage employers from illegal hiring. ICE's Fraudulent Document Laboratory (FDL) can provide state authorities with "real time evaluation" of identification documents. The FDL is now performing thousands of forensic examinations a year.

Information made available through ICE shows more than 100 "document intelligence alerts" were produced in FY 2004. These alerts are provided to local law enforcement officials in the form of color photo bulletins, which can be compared to potentially fraudulent identification documents presented to employers.

Bill would create employee eligibility hotline

Legislation that has already passed the House of Representatives would provide for a new employment eligibility verification system administered through DHS. Poe is a supporter and co-sponsor of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437), which would establish a toll-free, telephone-based system for employers to confirm applicants' work eligibility through DHS. The objective would be for DHS officials to either confirm or give a "tentative non-confirmation" within three working days of an initial inquiry.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 239 to 182. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2006. That committee has taken no action on the bill.

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