Remember the Department of Homeland Security’s “no-fly” lists that erratically flagged 3-year-old children and dozens of men named David Nelson as potential terrorists seeking to board commercial airplanes? Well, now privacy experts are warning America to prepare for the “no-work” list. As Congress battles over new immigration policy, experts say a little-discussed aspect of the bill – mandatory employee eligibility verification – is likely to have a colossal impact on the lives of every person in the U.S. labor market – citizen and immigrant alike. “Everyone who wants to work will feel this provision,” said Tim Sparapani, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “People are just beginning to understand the implications of it, and they’re big.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2As they debate immigration reform, Republicans and Democrats have largely agreed on the need for a nationwide system that would allow employers to verify that potential workers are citizens or legal residents. But privacy advocates say the rush to mandate widespread eligibility checks is being done with little understanding of the technical problems that could wrongly put thousands of people out of work each year while leading to rampant discrimination. And, they warn, the government may also begin to compile new and vast databases of information on every employable man, woman and teen. Department of Homeland Security officials and advocates of the employer verification system say privacy activists are fanning overblown fears. No personal information is stored or tracked, they maintain, and the program is devised to protect employees from being left jobless while waiting for a green light from the system. Currently that system – a voluntary one – is called the Basic Pilot Program. About 6,000 participating employers use it annually to electronically check workers’ I-9 forms against Social Security and visa information. If the system is rolled out nationally, it would have to accommodate an estimated U.S. work force of 144 million. About 57 million people, according to the Department of Labor, take new jobs each year – 13.4 million in Western states alone. Mark Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said most Americans wrongly think they will be exempt from verification. “Generally speaking, people who aren’t in the immigrant community assume it won’t affect them. But for the system to work, it has to encompass the entire American work force.” The bills, he said, “put the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security in the middle of every employment decision in the United States.” Under the Senate bill, employers would have to use the system to check every new employee; the House bill requires employers to check current workers, as well as prospective ones. “This is many orders of magnitude greater than what currently exists,” Sparapani said. “As a computer network problem, that’s a massive undertaking.” Chris Bentley, spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees the program, expressed confidence that the Basic Pilot Program could rapidly expanded. He noted that the system is not a database that needs to be created, but rather an interface that can access information from the Social Security Administration and USCIS records. However, ramping up the system would require money and resources to accommodate the heavy influx of new users. Currently, the system either confirms an employee’s eligibility or issues a “tentative non-confirmation” when employers enter a Social Security or visa number along with other identifiers like birthdate. In the event of non-confirmations, employers must notify workers, who then have 10 days to contest it. During that time, employers are prohibited from firing, suspending or docking pay. Bentley also noted that employees must already be hired and working before the verification can be done, so they are not waiting on the wheels of bureaucracy to turn in order to feed their families. “No one is in a holding pattern here,” he said. But reality does not always conform to law. According to UCSIS’ own 2002 study, employers use the pilot system to screen applicants even before they are hired. And the study found that when employers received a tentative non-confirmation, “job applicants are unlikely to be notified.” Moreover, 67 percent of employees who contested a non-confirmation reported being suspended, docked pay or having their job training delayed while they sorted out their records. A 2004 agency report found that erroneous non-confirmations for foreign-born workers were “unacceptably high,” and “higher than desirable” for U.S.-born workers. The errors, it found, were largely because of data-entry mistakes and accuracy problems with either the Social Security or USCIS databases. This created burdens for employees and employers, increased verification costs for the government and led to unintentional discrimination against foreign-born persons, the study found. These days, the USCIS pegs the overall error rate as low as 1.4 percent. But extrapolated over 54 million workers in a mandatory national system, that could result in more than 750,000 people wrongly being told each year they are ineligible to work. Sparapani likened it to the Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list, which led to dozens of men named David Nelson being detained at airports because one man named David Nelson apparently was named in the national database as a potential terrorist. “I’ve called this system the `no-work list,”‘ Sparapani said. “Pick your common surname. It’s a nightmare for the system. And imagine not being able to work and provide for your family,” he said. While the Senate bill provides employees with broader ability to contest and appeal their finding, the House version does not. But accuracy could have its dangers as well. The more information the government collects in the name of preserving accuracy and preventing identity fraud, the more information the government has on all of us, experts point out. “It’s the government creating another system of identification,” Rotenberg said. While DHS officials maintained that no employment data is tracked or stored, Rotenberg and others predicted it someday would be. And without privacy restrictions on how the information is used, they warned, numerous agencies could potentially tap into the data at any time. Ultimately, though, immigration experts said the employer verification program, even with its faults, is the best way to block illegal immigration. “There are legitimate concerns in terms of privacy and the rights of individuals to access and correct their records,” said Deborah Meyers, a senior policy expert at the Migration Policy Institute. But, she said, “ultimately, from an immigration perspective, only an employer verification system has the potential to reduce illegal immigration to the United States, because ultimately it’s the job magnet that draws illegals to the U.S. “The deterrent has to be the inability to get a job,” she said. email@example.com (202) 662-8731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!