Publication Date

3-2-2009

Abstract

[Excerpt] As immigration reform and the illegal alien population have gained congressional and public attention in the past several years, the issue of unauthorized employment has come to the fore. It is widely accepted that most unauthorized aliens enter and remain in the United States in order to work. Thus, eliminating employment opportunities for these aliens has been seen as key to curtailing unauthorized immigration.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 amended the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to add provisions, sometimes referred to as employer sanctions, that made it unlawful for an employer to knowingly hire, recruit or refer for a fee, or continue to employ an alien who is not authorized to work. These provisions also established a paper-based employment eligibility verification system, known as the I-9 system, which requires that employers examine documents presented by new hires to verify identity and work eligibility, and complete and retain I-9 verification forms. There is general agreement that the I-9 process has been undermined by fraud. Employers violating INA prohibitions on unauthorized employment may be subject to civil or criminal penalties. The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS/ICE) is responsible for enforcing the INA prohibitions on unauthorized employment.

Building on the employment verification system established by IRCA, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) directed the Attorney General to conduct three pilot programs for employment eligibility confirmation. Under the Basic Pilot program (known now as E-Verify), the only one of the three pilots still in operation, participating employers verify new hires' employment eligibility by submitting information about these workers that is checked against Social Security Administration (SSA) and, if applicable, DHS databases. E-Verify is scheduled to terminate on March 6, 2009, in accordance with Division A of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009.

A variety of options has been put forth to curtail unauthorized employment and related practices, a selection of which is discussed in this report. Some of these options would build on the current employment eligibility verification system; these include making electronic verification mandatory, increasing existing penalties, or increasing resources for worksite enforcement. Others represent new approaches to address unauthorized employment, such as shifting responsibility for employment eligibility verification from employers to the federal government.

Multiple bills related to unauthorized employment have been introduced in the 111th Congress. Among them, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 (H.R. 1105), as introduced and as passed by the House, includes a provision to extend E-Verify through September 30, 2009. Several other provisions on the E-Verify program, including provisions to extend the program until November 2013 and to require that none of the funds made available under the act be used to enter into a contract with an entity that does not participate in E-Verify, were included in the House-passed version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1). These provisions, however, were not included in the Senate-passed version of H.R. 1 or in the final enacted version of the bill.

This report will be updated as developments warrant.

Comments

Suggested Citation
Bruno, A. (2009). Unauthorized employment in the United States: Issues, options, and legislation. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/609/

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