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Immigration Reform Relies On Unproven Verification Technology

There's a pilot program used by 6,200 employers. Eight million would need access under the reforms.
While the details of immigration reform are battled out in Washington, one thing is certain: The feds must beef up their electronic employment verification infrastructure. No system to do that on a wide scale exists.

The Department of Homeland Security has a pilot program that supports 6,200 employers who voluntarily use it to verify employee status with online data from Social Security, IRS, and U.S. immigration databases. Nearly all the employers find it useful, the Government Accountability Office found in a June report.

But weaknesses such as the inability to detect identity fraud could limit the program's effectiveness, the report found. Immigration officials fear the system may not deliver timely verifications if significantly more employers use it. "It was designed as a pilot system. It's currently not designed to support 8 million employers," a Citizenship & Immigration Services spokesman says.

Bolstering the system would be a huge data management challenge, requiring attention to everything from accuracy to timeliness to security. Unfortunately, those haven't been the hallmarks of government megaprojects.