Magazine article Workforce Management

Basic Pilot under Fire

Magazine article Workforce Management

Basic Pilot under Fire

Article excerpt

As lawmakers enter a new round of debate on IMMIGRATION REFORM LEGISLATION, the value of the widely criticized electronic employee verification system is certain to be a subject of much discussion. By Mark Schoeff Jr.

OPINIONS ON immigration vary sharply in Congress-and consensus on how to achieve comprehensive reform may be as difficult to reach this year as it was in 2006. But like last year, everyone on Capitol Hill seems to agree that employer verification is crucial to any bill that emerges.

The question is whether the electronic verification mechanism that the government has been pushing the private sector to adopt, Basic Pilot, will survive the legislative process.

Immigration activity has spiked. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, scheduled a vote for today to begin a debate in that chamber. The basis for the deliberations will either be a comprehensive bill approved by the Senate last year or a bipartisan measure that Democrats, Republicans and the White House have been trying to forge for weeks.

Last year, the House and Senate failed to reconcile their immigration bills. The 2006 Senate measure included a mandatory electronic employment verification system that would utilize government databases. This year's bipartisan Senate negotiations are leading toward an electronic verification system that builds on Basic Pilot, says Laura Reiff, co-chair of the Essential Worker Immieration Coalition.

Reiff says the business community is stressing that the new system must work before all employers are required to use it.

Coming to grips with employer verification is one of the many obstacles Congress faces on the winding and treacherous road toward comprehensive immigration reform.

Basic Pilot, a Web-based system that checks new-hire information against Social Security and Department of Homeland Security databases, has been widely criticized as inefficient and ineffective by the business community.

The first piece of comprehensive legislation, a House bill written by Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, and Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, does away with Basic Pilot and replaces it with a system that verifies employment by using machine-readable, tamper-resistant documents such as secure driver's licenses containing physiological proof of identity like a fingerprint or retina scan.

Nevertheless, Basic Pilot did not lack for defenders during recent congressional hearings. Its advocates admitted that the system has flaws, but said improvements were being made as more employers register.

EMPLOYER FRUSTRATION

One prominent Basic Pilot participant, however, is not satisfied. An official at Swift & Co., the nation's third-largest meat processing company, testified before Congress on April 24 that the corporation was burned by Basic Pilot.

Despite participating in the verification system, Swift was the subject of a December 12 raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at six of its facilities, which led to the arrest of 1,282 employees on immigration violations.

The alleged culprits used false identities to pass as legal workers, a situation that Basic Pilot is not equipped to detect. In a Capitol Hill appearance, John Shandley, Swift senior vice president for human resources, said the disruption to Swift's operations cost the company $30 million.

The dollar amount, however, was not what galled Shandley the most. It was the fact that government immigration officials refused to work with Swift to resolve the situation before a raid was conducted.

"All attempts to generate a collaborative solution were repeatedly rebuffed under the guise of an 'ongoing criminal investigation,' " Shandley said at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

The Department of Homeland security, which houses ICE, has stepped up employer enforcement during the past year, sometimes pursuing criminal cases against executives. …

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