This article by Bruce Parker originally published July 16, 2015, on Watchdog.org. This is part 9 of the Drivers Licenses for Illegals Series.
A change in guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services makes driver’s licenses for illegals acceptable ID for employment, creating a new shortcut for illegal immigrants to get jobs.
Federal law prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants. However, a recent change by USCIS requires employers to accept driver’s privilege cards as proof of identity, even though the cards are uniquely granted to individuals with no legal presence in the country.
According to guidance USCIS issued in May, a driver privilege card issued by a state is an acceptable List B document for I-9 employment forms “if it contains a photograph or identifying information such as name, date of birth, sex, height, color of eyes, and address.”
Ten states issue some form of driver’s license to illegal immigrants. While the credentials are designated for driving purposes only, the updated federal guidance means the cards now qualify as documents for obtaining work.
“In effect, what has happened here, is USCIS has created a shortcut for illegal immigrants to obtain employment. Now all they need is work authorization, which can be obtained by a counterfeit birth certificate,” Andrew Meehan, policy director for Keeping Identities Safe, told Vermont Watchdog.
Keeping Identities Safe, a nonpartisan crime-prevention group that specializes in secure IDs, claims states have issued nearly half a million driver’s licenses to illegals. Hundreds of thousands of applications are currently pending.
Meehan says the development has significant implications for America’s labor force.
“This could have a very real economic impact on the United States. These are very subtle changes that are not being debated even in a proposed rule or even in Congress. … We’re talking about what could potentially be a million people who may be looking for work using these licenses.”
According to data from Keeping Identities Safe, the states with the most licenses in circulation are California (341,000), Illinois (95,991), Maryland (38,013) and Nevada (23,066). Vermont, which has issued more than 40,000 driver’s privilege cards, offers its credential to citizens and undocumented immigrants alike, making it impossible to track how many licenses get issued to illegal immigrants.
Under federal law, employers who hire illegal aliens face criminal and civil fines, loss of business license and even jail time. The new guidance from USCIS creates a dilemma for employers who on the one hand are prohibited from hiring illegals and on the other hand are required to accept documents uniquely issued to undocumented immigrants.
While employers must now accept driver’s privilege cards, doing so does not necessarily expose them to prosecution should they hire an illegal alien, according to the USCIS guidance.
“The fact that an employee presents or an employer accepts a driver privilege or authorization card that meets Form I-9 requirements as a List B identity document does not, in and of itself, support a conclusion that the employer had actual or constructive knowledge (i.e. knew or should have known) that an employee is not employment authorized,” the guidance states.
Meehan said while the change does not necessarily put employers at risk of prosecution, it does expose them to nearly unstoppable fraud.
Since USCIS classifies driver’s privilege cards as a List B document, job applicants who possess the cards must provide one additional document to employers — a List C document — to show authorization for work. Meehan says the most common List C document is the birth certificate, which is among the easiest documents to counterfeit.
“There are 6,000 different entities issuing over 9,000 different types of birth certificates across the United States. Recognizing a counterfeit birth certificate from a legitimate birth certificate is almost impossible,” he said.
“So you have employers now who are going to be able to say, ‘Well, I’m not a fraudulent document examiner. It was printed on what looked to be security paper. I accepted it as proof of authorization to work in the United States.’”
Meehan said since USCIS, e-Verify and the Department of Labor don’t have systems to confirm all those document sources, employers have no way to verify the birth certificate of any job applicant. Moreover, he added that creating a counterfeit birth certificate is as easy as purchasing security paper at a local Staples and printing birth information on it.
Despite the blurred lines created by the new guidance, it’s possible that employers can accept driver’s privilege cards for I-9 forms and comply with federal law prohibiting the hiring of illegals. Vermont issues driver’s privilege cards to both citizens and illegals, meaning many of those credentials are tied to valid job applicants. Moreover, some individuals without legal presence may obtain valid work authorization through other government channels.
However, Meehan said the ease with which illegals may obtain a driver’s privilege card and a fake a birth certificate is certain to create a pathway to work for hundreds of thousands of ineligible applicants.
“What we see is a pattern here to add legitimacy to these licenses. Many states, Vermont included, when they pass legislation, they often include language that says, ‘Listen, this is to be used for driving and nothing else. You can’t use it to obtain state benefits, firearms or employment,’” he said.
“And yet, what USCIS has done is add a very real legitimacy to these licenses and allowed them to be used for something that they were never intended to be used for.”