The Department of Homeland Security has reissued a rule defining the way employers should respond to employees whose Social Security numbers don't match what the government thinks they should be.
The rule is less likely to affect workers or employers participating in the heavily administered H-1B visa program than it is other visa programs, or even native-born citizens, experts said. But the threat that a worker must be fired for what might be a federal clerical error has civil rights groups up in arms.
The so-called "No-Match" rule defines a set of procedures employers should follow if they receive letters from the Social Security Administration saying the Social Security number on an employee's W-2 form doesn't match SSA records.
Such "safe harbor" procedures guarantee that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department won't prosecute the company for "knowingly" violating immigration rules.
The rule requires the worker to contact the SSA to fix the error; if it hasn't been resolved within three months, the employee could be fired.
Among the concerns cited by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer is the possibility that innocent workers would lose their jobs if discrepancies were not corrected within the span of time required by the DHS.
Firing workers based on errors in or discrepancies from the SSA's "notoriously flawed" database would put not only legal immigrant workers' jobs at risk, but those of U.S. citizens as well, especially those whose records might include a name change, use of multiple surnames or clerical errors, according to a statement from the National Immigration Law Center, one of several civil rights groups that were party to the suit.
"The DHS rule has caused lots of confusion and panic among workers and employers alike," NILC's analysis said. "It is likely that publication of the final rule may prompt many employers to implement it even through no No-Match letters were sent out in 2008."