Beaufort County’s own data may show how workers who are in the country illegally are still finding work.
Between 2008 and 2010, the county contracted with security firm Advance Point Global, owned by then state Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort, to audit every business in unincorporated Beaufort County to check for immigration compliance and other issues.
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The company reviewed about 15,000 federal I-9 forms, which verify workers’ identity and employment authorization. About half were found to be deficient, Patrick said last week.
While some of the deficiencies were minor clerical errors, serious problems were found, too, including:
▪ Workers presenting Social Security cards that belonged to other people working in other parts of the country and cards that belonged to retired workers.
▪ Several people using the same Social Security number as well as workers using made-up Social Security numbers that had never been issued.
▪ Fraudulent resident alien registration cards and permanent resident cards. In some instances, the numbers listed on the cards belonged to legal immigrants but not the workers presenting the cards.
Most of the abuses were found at county businesses that relied on workers who could handle manual labor, Patrick said, such as construction and landscaping companies.
“When we found these problems, we took the time to educate employers on what they needed to do to fix the problem,” said Patrick. “We were there to help, not put anyone out of business.”
At the time of the audits, a statewide E-Verify mandate was being phased in, and many businesses were not using the program yet. The federal database allows employers to quickly check whether a new hire is eligible for employment.
Even if county employers had been using E-Verify at the time, there’s no guarantee the abuses would have been spotted.
“E-Verify is not always able to identify instances where an employee uses borrowed, stolen or fake documents with valid data that match information in government systems,” said Steve Blando, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
But E-Verify is designed to recognize fake Social Security numbers and immigration data. And recently added features are increasing the system’s effectiveness, including document photo matching that recognizes when a photo has been swapped in passports, green cards and other authorization documents. The program can also “lock” Social Security numbers that appear to have been used multiple times, Blando said.
Advance Point Global turned over roughly 1,000 cases to the Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner for further investigation, Patrick said.
Tanner’s immigration task force team, which is now defunct, pursued only cases that were criminal in nature, including the use of counterfeit documents and forgeries. A couple dozen were successfully prosecuted, while others were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Tanner said.
“E-Verify is a decent tool,” Patrick said. “But it has its flaws and can be manipulated and worked around.”
Gina Smith: 803-414-1340, @GinaNSmith