For many years employers have been required to verify that immigrants or temporary residents have the right to work in the United States when hiring them. All job applicants are supposed to sign a federal I-9 form and provide supporting documents to verify their work eligibility.
Predictably, this rule has led to a surge in black-market phony identification and immigration documents. Employers hire immigrants who appear to have valid documents, only to find out later that they don't have permission to work. Businesses complain this leads to work shortages at inconvenient times, as well as the loss of trained workers.
Congress responded in 1997 with a voluntary pilot program in six states - California, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, and Texas - that allows employers to verify within three days of hiring that the worker's Social Security number is valid and that he or she is eligible for employment.
The program worked so successfully that Congress voted in November to extend it for five more years and make it available nationwide. That should greatly ease the burden on businesses: If enough use the system, it could also cut down on the hiring of illegal immigrants.
That could help the Social Security Administration, which is grappling with $374 billion in funds it can't match to any valid Social Security number. Much of that money is paid to the system by illegal immigrants who have given employers false Social Security numbers. When Social Security can't match a name with a number, it sends a letter to the employer and employee, notifying each of the discrepancy. This blows the cover of illegal immigrants, who either leave or must be fired.
But the employment verification system won't do anything to match illegal immigrants with the billions in payroll deductions they have paid to Social Security. As with most issues of illegal immigration, the solution to that problem depends on Congress passing legislation to allow long-time illegal immigrants to return to their home countries and apply for preferential visas to live lawfully in the US.