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Johnson Opening Statement: Hearing on the Social Security Administration’s Role in Verifying Employment Eligibility

April 14, 2011

Employers are on the front lines of ensuring a legal workforce – and it is a battle for these employers.  Consider for a moment that due to our broken immigration enforcement system, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are over 8 million illegal workers in the country.  With unemployment around 9 percent, these illegal workers often compete with lawful citizens for much needed jobs.

Today’s hearing will examine the employment verification systems available for employer’s use, including E-Verify, the largely voluntary system jointly administered by Social Security and Homeland Security.

Since our last hearing on this subject nearly three years ago, the use of E-Verify has expanded.  Today over 250,000 employers, that’s about 4 percent of all U.S. employers, are registered to use the system.  In addition, use of E-Verify has been mandated in Three States and for the federal government and certain Federal contractors and subcontractors.

Social Security is an integral partner in E-Verify because it has the only database that can confirm citizenship. I want to make clear however that I am very uncomfortable that Homeland Security is checking U.S. citizens.   That said Social Security and Homeland Security have to their credit worked together to make E-Verify more workable and more accurate. 

However as we will hear shortly from the Government Accountability Office, E-Verify remains vulnerable to identity theft and to employer fraud. 

As my Texas colleague and Chairman of the Judiciary Lamar Smith has said, “Perhaps the most valid criticism of the E-Verify program is the identity theft loophole.” I couldn’t agree more.

If an employee presents a stolen Social Security number and fraudulent photo ID, E-Verify will erroneously indicate that the individual is authorized to work.  The employer has been duped and an innocent American may face years of financial and legal woes because his identity has been stolen.

To build on the successes of E-Verify while making needed adjustments to ensure successful implementation, last Congress I introduced H.R. 5515, the “New Employee Verification Act” or NEVA. 

NEVA would achieve three important goals: ensure a legal workforce, safeguard workers’ identities, and protect Social Security. 

It’s time the Congress gave the American people an employment verification system that works, while protecting Social Security’s ability to serve the public.  I would hope that this is one immigration related issue where both sides could find common ground.

As we move forward, we must carefully consider the potential burdens to Social Security, and most importantly, to workers and employers struggling in these trying times to get Americans working again.

I look forward to hearing our expert testimony today and thank our panel members for joining us.