Hutchinson With technology allowing people to more easily make fake identification, personnel managers in Kansas say they are seeing an increase in illegal immigrants trying to land a job with the fake documents.
Years ago, making good fake IDs required a lot of skill, but now all it takes is a little computer experience and desktop publishing, said Carl Rusnok, spokesman in Dallas for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
And those using the fake documents are becoming more brazen.
Evelyn Fulton, personnel manager at a Dodge City manufacturer, said she once was handed a Social Security card that was so obviously fake she gave it back to the man who presented it with some sarcastic advice.
"I told him, 'You need to find a better place to buy your identification,' and I handed it back to him and sent him on his way," she said.
But Fulton acknowledges that some undocumented immigrants with higher-quality fakes probably have been given jobs at her firm, a farm implement manufacturer. She said such incidents where the workers are so brazen anger her.
"If I tell them their paperwork isn't any good, they say, 'I can get some more,"' she said. "It's not a big deal for them."
Brent Anderson, a federal prosecutor who handles criminal immigration cases in Kansas, said illegal immigrants with false paperwork are likely to be found anywhere with labor-intensive jobs such as southwest Kansas' thriving meatpacking industry.
"When there are jobs, you're going to have illegals with false documents to work them," said Anderson, who has prosecuted numerous fraudulent document cases.
While some southwest Kansas meatpackers are hiring legal labor, he adds, "it's obvious that many, many of them aren't."
But for Hispanic rights advocates, the prevalence of false documents highlights flaws in the nation's immigration system.
Robert Vinton, a member of the board of the Regional Latino Affairs Council, said the country needs a guest-worker program or some other way of legally integrating undocumented immigrants into the U.S. labor force. The council is a Dodge City-based Hispanic advocacy group.
Anderson said there were almost no federal document fraud cases involving illegal workers in Kansas in 2004. With federal legislation creating mandatory prison terms for certain document fraud cases, those cases have increased to nearly 40 this year.
In one such case last month, a federal grand jury indicted five Mexican nationals living in Dodge City on charges related to a phony document mill in the city. Federal officials say they were peddling phony Social Security cards and Texas birth certificates, and had been doing it for years.
Anderson said once a legitimate Social Security number enters the black market, it is passed from one undocumented worker to another by false document vendors. In one instance, 30 workers were using the same Social Security number in 10 states.
And pursuing the cases is hard because of the sheer number, limited manpower and higher criminal priorities, he said.
Employers face their own challenges when weeding out illegal workers. A new employee must produce proof of U.S. employment eligibility when applying for a job, typically a Social Security card and some other document.
But the law requires employers not to be too critical when scrutinizing the paperwork, in case they are accused of selective inspections and discriminatory employment practices.
In response, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office has started a program to help identify illegal workers.
Under the Basic Pilot Employment Verification Program, participating employers put a worker's reported name and Social Security number onto an Internet site to make sure the data match and the number is legitimate. It's free and voluntary and has been available to employers in all 50 states since December 2004.
Still, only 12,000 of the United States' 12 million employers take part, and the program has its weaknesses.
If someone submits a matching name and Social Security number, the system won't catch it, even if the worker has stolen that identity.