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INS Announces Computer-Check Program to Detect Illegal Job Applicants

May 23, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In an effort to crack down on illegal immigrants taking U.S. jobs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is turning to a computerized system that allows companies to quickly learn whether an applicant is eligible for employment.

With the cooperation of some of the nation’s largest meatpacking companies, INS will operate a system with which a job applicant’s name can be checked against an INS database to learn whether he is a naturalized citizen or a foreigner authorized to work in America.

``This innovative computer-based project allows employers to verify that they are hiring authorized workers,″ INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said Thursday. ``American jobs belong to American workers, and for too long, too many jobs have gone to illegal immigrants.″

Meissner said the pilot program includes four of the nation’s largest meatpacking companies, which together employ about 56,000 people, or 80 percent of the nation’s meatpacking work force.

``We are very pleased to be part of a cooperative effort between business and government,″ said Ken Kimbro, a vice president with IBP, a meatpacking concern based in Dakota City, Neb. ``We see this as a supplement to the screening process that reduces the chance for error and the use of fraudulent documents.″

The plan works this way:

After an employer reviews a noncitizen employee’s documentation, the employer dials into the INS system, using an access code and password provided by the agency. The employer types in selected information about the employee, which is checked against the INS database.

In less than a minute, the worker’s employment is authorized, or the computer asks for additional information.

If additional information is requested, it can take INS up to three days to cull other databases to verify the worker’s credentials. The worker remains on the company’s payroll during this period.

If the first two checks do not verify the worker’s eligibility, the employee is given 30 days to resolve his immigration status by contacting INS, during which he continues to be employed.

The new program is based on a pilot project conducted last year with 230 employers in Santa Ana, Calif., an area that has dealt for years with illegal-worker problems.

According to Meissner, the initial test turned up more than 3,000 illegal employees.

Meissner said the program is not expected to be used to augment the INS’ deportation and enforcement divisions; no records will be kept on illegal applicants.

``This is an effort at compliance and deterrence,″ Meissner said. ``We would far prefer to concentrate on compliance than enforcement.″

If the meatpacking industry experiment works, she added, the program could be expanded to more than a dozen other industries plagued by difficulties ferreting out illegal workers.

The meatpacking industry traditionally has been a haven for illegal workers, mostly because it requires no previous skills and pays a good wage.

``The work in the packing industry is not the most desirable work you can find,″ Kimbro said. ``It’s hard, hard work.″

Kimbro and other industry officials said the typical meatpacking salary averages between $8 and $9 per hour, a wage far higher than those paid for many other unskilled-labor jobs.

Other than buying personal computers equipped with telephone modems, there will be no other cost to the companies. The INS will supply access to its database without charge, Meissner said.

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