Management and labor are rarely on the same side of an issue. But if a panel discussion this morning is any judge, both sides agree that implementing changes to the Social Security Administration's so-called “No-Match Rule” and the Homeland Security Department’s E-Verify program will create more problems for immigrant workers and the companies that employ them than they solve.
Maggio & Kattar hosted the discussion titled “E-Verify and No-Match Letters: Practical Strategies for Practitioners and Employers from Three Perspectives” at its office this morning, offering representatives on both sides to discuss what proposed changes to those programs might mean. Gregory Ossi, a labor and employment partner at Venble who focuses on immigration issues, spoke from the employers’ perspective, and Ana Avendaño, director of immigrant worker programs in the AFL-CIO Office of General Counsel, offered the perspective of employees. Maggio & Kattar managing partner Jim Alexander, an immigration attorney himself, moderated.
The No-Match Rule is part of an SSA program in which letters are sent to employers, informing them that Social Security numbers they've submitted for withholding purposes do not match the names the agency has on file for them. The program is designed to clean up the data the SSA has on file and potentially to weed out employees who are not authorized to work in the U.S. That’s all good in theory, Avendaño says, but in practice, the program is “fraught with problems.”
“This information has a lot of human errors,” she says. “The program can unfairly target foreign-born workers because Asian workers may reverse their names, or married women might not have updated their new name with the agency.” She adds that sending out letters even in cases were mistakes are made in good faith can open the door for employers to unfairly target foreign-born workers.
Ossi added that problems can arise on the management side because employers who try to comply with laws against employing illegal immigrants might “overreact” and terminate employees who receive a letter, even though no-match letters are not sufficient cause for firing someone. He says he would advise clients to take steps designed to find out whether the letter was received in error or because of some honest mistake before acting upon it. “I tell my clients to react, but don’t panic,” Ossi says.
Changes to the E-Verify program, which require employers who work on government contracts over $100,000 to use an electronic program to determine whether all employees who work on the project are eligible to do so. Again, Ossi and Avendaño agreed that the government’s effort to address the issue of illegal immigrants working on federally funded projects creates more problems than it solves. “The problem is that they’re using the SSA’s data in a way that it was never designed for,” Avendaño says. “The Social Security system was never set up to be a mechanism for immigration enforcement.”
Alexander adds that he doubts the SSA’s top priority right now is how its data are being used, especially as unprecedented numbers of retirees add to the already strained agency’s burden.
The changes to the programs are currently on hold as litigation involving them moves forward, but with a new administration in control, both Ossi and Avendaño say they would like to see the government make an effort at comprehensive immigration reform instead of fixing things in a “piecemeal” fashion.
“The broken federal system needs to be fixed on a federal level. Without comprehensive reform, none of these changes are going to address the problem,” Avendaño says.