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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy


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In August 2007, a long awaited "no-match
letter" regulation from US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement was
released. It quickly was challenged in court and the rule was barred from
taking effect by a federal district court. Today, DHS released a proposed rule that makes very few actual changes to the previously released rule and instead attempts to address procedural questions raised by the court in its preliminary injunction. >>

The rule describes the
obligations of employers when they receive no-match letters from the Social
Security Administration or receive a letter regarding employment verification
forms from the Department of Homeland Security.  The rule also provides
"safe harbors" employers can follow to avoid a finding the employer
had constructive knowledge that the employee referred to in the letter was an
alien not authorized to work in the US. Employers with knowledge that
an immigrant worker is unauthorized to accept employment are liable for both
civil and criminal penalties.   >>

The rule finalized a proposed rule released on June
14, 2006. The Department of
Homeland Security, ICE's parent department, received nearly 5,000
comments on the rule from a variety of interested parties including employers,
unions, lawyers and advocacy groups. According to DHS, the opinions were highly
varied with both strong opposition and support being enunciated. DHS also held
a meeting with business and trade associations to discuss the proposed rule.


Why did the court block the rule from taking

The rule was challenged
in court prior to it taking effect in September 2007 and a judge issued a
preliminary injunction on three grounds:>>

  1. DHS failed to supply a reasoned analysis justifying what the court thought was a change in DHS' position - that a no-match letter may be sufficient, by itself, to put an employer on notice that its employees may not be work authorized;>>

  2. DHS exceeded its authority (and encroached on the authority of the Department of Justice) by interpreting anti-discrimination provisions in the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA); and>>

  3. DHS violated the Regulatory Flexibility Act by not conducting a regulatory flexibility analysis.>>

How has DHS attempted to address the court's

On March 21, 2008, DHS
released a supplemental proposed rule designed to address the court's concerns.
DHS is hoping that the court will overturn the preliminary injunction and allow
the agency to implement the proposed rule. The agency is also continuing to
appeal the court's order. The agency is providing 30 days for comments. >>

In the proposed rule,
DHS first addressed the court's concern that that agency had failed to provide
a detailed analysis explaining the agency's new position that no match letters
are an indicator of unauthorized status. >>

DHS first cites a number
of sources indicating that Social Security numbers are being used to gain
employment authorization by people unauthorized to work. It included quotes
from the 1997 report of the US Commission on Immigration Reform and also cites
reports issued by the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector
General of the Social Security Administration. It also notes that the
industries most affected by the rule have admitted that much of their workforce
is unauthorized and millions of employees have used false numbers. Finally, the
agency cites to public and private studies confirming that a sizeable portion
of employees identified by no-match letters are working illegally in the United States

DHS cites two other
justifications for the law. First, many employers fail to respond to no-match
letters because they fear being accused of violating anti-discrimination rules
if they react inappropriately to them. The no-match rule would provide
protection from such liability if the employer follows the requirements of the
regulation. Second, many US citizens and aliens would benefit by being notified
of problems in the Social Security database and being able to get proper credit
for their earnings. US citizens would also benefit, according to DHS, by seeing an expansion of
employment opportunities as a result of unauthorized employees being terminated
for not providing a valid Social Security number.>>

DHS then describes in
the rule a series of rulings and opinions by the agency that it believes show
the agency has had a consistent position on no-match letters. But the agency
states that even if it concedes that it is taking a new position, it meets the
requirement to show a reasoned analysis justifying the chance in policy. In
this case, it states that the "most basic justification for issuance of this
rule - and for the "change" in policy found by the district court - is to
eliminate ambiguity regarding an employer's responsibilities upon receipt of a
no match letter. Absent this rule, employers have been taking very different
positions based on DHS' ambiguous statements. >>

DHS also defends the
rule by pointing out that only employers with more than 10 employees identified
with no-matches get SSA no-match letters and only if the percentage of
no-matches exceeds .5% of the employer's work force. >>

With regard to the
question of usurping the Justice Department's anti-discrimination enforcement
authority, DHS insists that its rule does not interfere with "the authority of
DOJ to enforce anti-discrimination provisions of the INA or adjudicate notices
of intent to fine employers." >>

It also specifically
rescinded statements from the August 2007 rule's preamble describing employers'
obligations under anti-discrimination law or discussing the potential for
anti-discrimination liability. That includes the statement "employers who
follow the safe harbor procedures...will not be found to have violated unlawful
discrimination." >>

With respect to the
regulatory flexibility analysis, DHS takes the position that the rule is a
voluntary safe harbor rather than a mandate. Hence, the rule does not require a
showing that employers will not be significantly impacted economically. >>

However, the agency
claims it is going to comply with the judge's ruling by providing an initial
regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA). They have provided a very cursory summary
of the analysis in the proposed regulation, but DHS says it will provide a full
analysis in the docket of the rulemaking. >>

DHS claims that it has
been stymied to some extent in providing a highly specific analysis because the
Social Security Administration has denied its request for the names and
addresses of the companies already identified by SSA in its preparation to
release no-match letters pursuant to the August 2007 regulation. SSA reminded
DHS that this disclosure would actually be illegal under taxpayer privacy laws.
SSA did, however, provide more general information including a table showing
the distribution of employers slated to receive no match letters in 2006. DHS
estimates it will cost employers anywhere from $3,009 to $33,759 depending on
the size of the employer and the percentage of current no-match employees
assumed to be unauthorized. DHS does not believe these costs constitute a "significant
economic impact.">>

DHS notes that the costs
associated with losing an employee as a result of the rule are due to the
Immigration and Nationality Act itself and not the new rule. However, the
agency does not mention "false positives" where employees authorized to work
are incorrectly identified in a no match letter. The agency did not account for
costs associated with losing employees not being able to resolve problems
within 90 days, something that critics fear will become common as hundreds of
thousands of people attempt to resolve problems at the same time under the new
rule. >>

DHS did site the
following costs: labor cost for human resource personnel, certain training
costs, legal services and lost productivity. >>


Did DHS mention any changes to the August 2007 rule
in its proposed rulemaking?>>

DHS only announced two
relatively minor changes. First, DHS changed the rule require that employers "promptly"
notify affected employees after they are unable to resolve a mismatch through
internal checks. Employers would now be given five business days to notify
employees. >>

Second, DHS makes clear
that employees hired before November 1, 1986 are not covered by the no-match
rule since these workers are not subject to IRCA. >>



The following is a
summary of the rule released in August 2007 with notes in brackets showing
changes made by the March 21, 2007 proposed rule]

Why did ICE issue this rule?   

All employers in the US are required to report social
security earnings for their workers. Those W-2 form reports listing an
employee's name, social security number and the worker's earnings are sent to
the Social Security Administration. In some cases, the social security number
and the name of the employee do not match. In some of these cases, the SSA
sends an employer a letter informing the employer of the no-match.   

In some cases, the no-match is the result of a
clerical error or a name change. In other cases, it may indicate that an
employee is not authorized to work.   

ICE issues similar letters to employers after they
conduct audits of an employer's
Employment Eligibility Verification forms (the
I-9s) and find evidence that an immigration status document or employment
authorization document does not match the name of the person on the I-9
document.   >>

To date, there has been considerable confusion and
debate over an employer's obligations after receiving a letter like this as
well as whether an employer would be considered to be on notice that an
employee is not unauthorized to work. This rule clarifies both issues albeit in
a way that will be very unfriendly to employers and workers.   

DHS cites the Mester Manufacturing case from the
9th Circuit Court of Appeals to remind employers that if they will have
"constructive" knowledge that an employee is out of status, they are
in violation of IRCA, the statute that punishes employers for knowingly hiring
unlawfully present workers or violating paperwork rules associated with the I-9
employment verification form. 


When is this rule effective?   

It becomes effective September 14, 2007.  [Note that DHS has not stated how much lead time would be provided between release of a new rule and its implementation date].


How has the definition of "knowing"
changed in the rule?

Two additional examples of "constructive
knowledge" are added to the list of examples of information available to
employers indicating an employee is not authorized to work in the US. First, if
an employer gets a written notice from the SSA that the name and SSN do not
match SSA records. And second, written notice is received from DHS that the
immigration document presented in completing the I-9 was assigned to another
person or there is no agency record that the document was assigned to anyone.

However, the question of whether an employer has
"constructive knowledge" will "depend on the totality of
relevant circumstances." So this rule is just a safe harbor regulation
telling how an employer can avoid a constructive knowledge finding, but not
guaranteeing that an employer will be deemed to have constructive knowledge if
the safe harbor procedure is not followed.   


What steps must an employer take if it gets a no-match

First, an employer must check its records to
determine if the error was a result of a typographical, transcription or
similar clerical error. If there is an error, the employer should correct the
error and inform the appropriate agency - DHS or SSA depending on which agency
sent the no-match letter. The employer should then verify with that agency that
the new number is correct and internally document the manner, date and time of
the verification. ICE is indicating in the preamble to the regulation that 30
days is an appropriate amount of time for an employer to take these steps.

If these actions do not resolve the discrepancy,
the employer should request an employee confirm the employer's records are
correct. If they are not correct, the employer needs to take corrective
actions. That would include informing the relevant agency and verifying the
corrected records with the agency. If the records are correct according to the
employee, the reasonable employer should ask the employee to follow up with the
relevant agency (such as by visiting an SSA office and bringing original or
certified copies of required identity documents). Just as noted above, thirty
days is a reasonable period of time for an employer to take this step.   

The rules provide that a discrepancy is only
resolved when the employer has received verification from SSA or DHS that the
employee's name matches the record.   

When 90 days have passed without a resolution of
the discrepancy, an employer must undertake a procedure to verify or fail to
verify the employee's identity and work authorization. If the process is
completed, an employer will NOT have constructive knowledge that an employee is
not work authorized if the system verifies the employee (even if the employee
turns out not to be employment authorized). This assumes that an employer does
not otherwise have actual or constructive knowledge that an employee is not
work authorized.

If the discrepancy is not resolved and the
employee's identity and work authorization are not verified, the employer must
either terminate the employee or face the risk that DHS will find constructive
knowledge of lack of employment authorization.   


What is the procedure to re-verify identity and
employment authorization when an employee has not resolved the discrepancy as
described above?   

Sections 1 and 2 of the I-9 would need to be
completed within 93 days of receiving the no-match letter. So if an employer
took the full 90 days to try and resolve the problem, they then have three more
days to complete the new I-9. And an employee may not use a document containing
the disputed SSN or alien number or a receipt for a replacement of such a
document. Only documents with a photograph may be used to establish identity.


Does an employer need to use the same procedure to
verify employment authorization for each employee that is the subject of a
no-match letter?   

Yes, the anti-discrimination rules require employer
to apply these procedures uniformly. DHS is also reminding employers about the
document abuse provisions which bar employers from failing to honor documents
that on their face appear reasonable. But employers now have the safe harbor of
a new regulation stating that this provision does not apply to documents that
are the subject of a no-match letter.   

DHS notes that if employers require employees to
complete a new I-9 form, the employer must not apply this on a discriminatory
basis and should require an I-9 verification for ALL employees who fail to
resolve SSA discrepancies and apply a uniform policy to all employees who
refuse to participate in resolving discrepancies and completing new I-9s.

Note that
under the March 2008 proposed changes to the August 2007 rule, employees hired
before November 6, 1986 are not subject to this rule.


What if the employer has heard that an employee is
unlawfully present aside from hearing from SSA or DHS in a no-match letter?

Employers who have ACTUAL knowledge that an alien
is unauthorized to work are liable under the INA even if they have complied
with the I-9 and no-match rules. But the government has the burden of proving
actual knowledge. DHS also notes that constructive knowledge may still be shown
by reference to other evidence.   


Does DHS have the authority to regulate the
treatment of notices received by the SSA?   

A number of comments on the rule questioned this
issue, but they were dismissed by DHS. Presumably, the issue could be the
source of litigation. 


Why is DHS issuing this rule when the White House
supports comprehensive immigration reform that would give employers legal
options for hiring these workers?   

DHS indicated in the preamble to the rule that
while it wants to work with Congress on such legislation, there is no way to
predict when it will pass and interior enforcement needs to be conducted.
Others are arguing that the White House is interested in demonstrating to
Congress that it is "getting tough" on illegal immigration in order
to increase the likelihood that members of Congress would support CIR.   


Will following the procedures in this rule protect
an employer from all claims of constructive knowledge, or just claims of
constructive knowledge base on the letters for which the employers followed the
safe-harbor procedure?   

An employer who follows the safe harbor procedure
will be considered to have taken all reasonable steps in response to the notice
and the employer's receipt of the written notice will there not be used as
evidence of constructive knowledge. But if other independent exists that an
employer had constructive knowledge, the employer is not protected.   


Are there any special rules for circumstances such
as seasonal workers, teachers on sabbatical and employees out of the office for
an extended period due to excused absence or disability?   

No, but DHS has noted that the rule provides a safe
harbor to prove an employer does NOT have constructive knowledge and that if an
employer makes a good faith effort to resolve a situation as rapidly as
practicable and documents such efforts, that would be considered in evaluating
the question of constructive knowledge.   


What are the time frames required under the rule to
take each necessary action after receiving the no-match letter?   

  • Employer checks own records, makes any necessary corrections of errors, and verifies corrections with SSA or DHS (0 - 30 days) >>

  • If necessary, employer notifies
    employee and asks employee to assist in correction (0 - 90 days) [Note: Under the March 2008 proposed rule, employers have five days to notify employees of the no-match if the employer conducts its internal review]>>

  • If necessary, employer corrects own
    records and verifies correction with SSA or DHS (0 - 90 days) >>

  • If necessary, employer performs
    special I-9 procedure (90 - 93 days) >>


May an employer continue to employ a worker a
worker throughout the process noted above?   

Yes. The only reason an employer would have to
terminate prior to 93 days if the employer gains actual knowledge of
unauthorized employment. DHS notes that it is not requiring termination by
virtue of this rule; rather, they are just providing a safe harbor to avoid a
finding of constructive knowledge. Employers may be permitted to terminate
based on its own personnel files including failing to show up for work or an
employee's false statement to the employer. [Note: SSB always recommends
consulting labor counsel before terminating employees for such reasons during
the no-match process].

Employers may terminate as well if they notify an
employee of the no-match letter and the employee admits that he or she is
unauthorized to work.   


What if the no-match letter is sent to the
employee, not the employer?   

The new rule only applies in cases where the
written notice is to the employer.   


Does it matter which person at the employer
receives the letter?   

No and DHS will not allow a designated person to
receive these letters despite concerns raised about a no-match letter not
making it to the appropriate party for too long. DHS has noted that an employer
can determine an office within a company that becomes the recipient of all mail
from DHS and SSA.   


Does verification through systems other than that
described in this rule provide a safe harbor?   

No, and this includes instances where SSA provides
options SSN verification as well as the USCIS electronic employment
verification system. But DHS does note that DHS may choose to use prosecutorial
discretion when employers take such steps.   


Does an employer filing for a labor certification
or employment-based green card application have constructive knowledge constitute
"constructive knowledge" that a worker is unauthorized?   

The new rule includes language stating "an
employee's request that the employer file a labor certification or
employment-based visa petition on behalf of the employee" may be an
example of a situation that may, depending on the totality of relevant
circumstances, require an employer to take reasonable steps in order to avoid a
finding of constructive knowledge. But DHS notes that some employees are
work-authorized and are not necessarily unauthorized to work just because they
request such sponsorship from an employer.   


Does an employer have to help an employee resolve
the discrepancy with SSA or DHS?   

No. An employer merely needs to advise the employee
of the time frame to resolve. They are not obligated to help resolve the
question or share any guidance provided by SSA.   


In what manner must employers retain records
required under the new rule?   

The rule is flexible in this regard and employers
may use any manner it chooses. The rule permits employers to keep records
alongside the I-9 form. Employers are encouraged to document telephone
conversations as well as all written correspondence.


If a new I-9 is prepared based on this rule, does
that affect the amount of time the I-9 must be retained?   

No. The original hire date remains the same even
though the safe harbor procedure is used. So if an employer was hired several
years ago, for example, has the I-9 form prepared again and then moves on to a
new employer, the original date of hire applies for purposes of determining
whether the one year retention requirement still applies.   


Doesn't requiring an employee to fill out a new I-9
form per this rule constitute document abuse?   

DHS does not believe this is the case because any
document presented that contained a suspect SSN or alien number would not be
facially valid and that it is proper for employers to require new


Won't this rule lead to massive firings across the

Many people are certainly worried that employers
won't bother to go through the safe harbor procedures and will just panic and
fire all workers that are the subject of these notices or will simply decide
not to spend the effort complying. DHS denies that this is likely to be the
case and has said the rule is in response to confusion under the current


Will an employer be liable for terminating an
employee who turns out to be work authorized if they get a no-match letter?

If the employee IS authorized to work and an
employer does not go through the various safe harbor steps in the rule, then
the employer might be liable in an unlawful termination suit.   


Won't this rule result in a major negative economic
impact on the country?   

That is an argument being advanced by many
opponents of the rule. DHS only responds that this is speculative and also that
complaints that small firms would be disproportionately affected because of the
costs in complying are speculative as well.   


What if the employee is gone by the time the
no-match letter arrives?   

An employer is not obligated to act on a no-match
letter for employees no longer employed by them.   


Aren't SSA and DHS databases unreliable?   

DHS admits that the SSA and DHS databases have
problems (as evidenced by GAO studies). But they say a no-match letter is
nothing more than an indicator of a problem and that this does not warrant
alone stopping the changes proposed in the rule.   


Won't this rule encourage identity theft?   

DHS denies it, but critics are concerned that the
only step left for workers is to ensure that a social security number and name
match and the only way for an unlawfully present worker to ensure this is to
usurp someone's identity. DHS believes the criminal penalties for identity theft
will act as a sufficient deterrent.


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  1. Another voice's Avatar

    Is this a whole new rule therefore it would be parallel to the one that was challenged in court? Or does this mean that they have remedied the problems and the court will allow the No match rule to proceed as planned? Does one impact the other?
  2. DWI Lawyer Washington County MN's Avatar
    First and foremost, please do not drink and drive. It is a dangerous choice to make not only for you, but the other drivers on the road as your judgment and reaction times are commonly slowed or impaired, making you a more dangerous driver. Also, if in Minnesota, your chances of getting caught doing so are fairly high. If caught and charged with either a DUI or DWI, you can face many severe penalties including losing your vehicle, your license, or even your freedom by being put in jail for years. The Minnesota law is not lenient at all on drunk driving because of the many publicized cases we have had over the years.
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