Basic Pilot veers off course
Chicago Tribune: Nearly a decade ago, the federal government created a program called Basic Pilot, which is supposed to give employers the tools needed to determine if job seekers are in the United States legally.
Basic Pilot is a voluntary program used by about 12,000 employers to help them check the names and Social Security numbers of their prospective workers. If an applicant's Social Security number fails to match his or her name, Basic Pilot lets the employer know.
But it didn't take illegal immigrants long to figure out that the program's electronic net has a big hole in it. If the name and number match, Basic Pilot approves it.
So, if you want to beat the system, you steal someone's name and Social Security number.
That kind of identity theft has been a growing industry. Last month, immigration agents conducted a six-state sweep of plants owned by Swift & amp; Co., America's third-largest fresh meat processor.
More than 1,300 workers were arrested -- including more than 100 who face criminal charges related to identity theft. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the raids the largest workplace sweep ever conducted on a single company on a single day.
But it was not Basic Pilot that tipped off federal agents, Chertoff said. Information leading to the sweep came from local police, anonymous hot-line tips and jailhouse interviews with illegal immigrants beginning in February.
So should Basic Pilot be scrapped? No. The holes in it could be patched with some updates of Social Security law.
For example, current law forbids the Social Security Administration from informing you if your Social Security number turns up with different addresses in multiple workplaces. Dozens of victims did not learn that their identities were being used illegally by Swift & amp; Co. workers until they received Internal Revenue Service queries about income earned in their name -- and with their Social Security number.
Basic Pilot is a voluntary program. The Bush administration would like to require businesses to use it. Not so fast. First the administration has to make it work.