Can SAVE really help?

December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

States like Arizona and Alabama that have passed anti-immigration laws recently plan to rely extensively on a program called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) or some other system of verification, such as E-verify, as the mechanism for determining whether someone is unlawfully present in the country. This is disturbing because neither SAVE nor E-Verify will be able to answer the question of whether someone is in the United States lawfully. According to the Immigration Policy Center, “there is no magic database or system that gives the simple, speedy determination of unlawful presence that states crave. The SAVE program, operated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), does not and was never designed to meet these needs. SAVE can only verify immigration status or immigration information at a particular point in time, and cannot determine whether someone is unlawfully present in the U.S. E-Verify is a federal database that can only be used to verify a worker’s authorization to work in the U.S.

Immigration law is too complex for a system like SAVE or E-Verify to serve as an accurate indicator of someone’s immigration status. Too many factors exist that require careful analysis to make an individual determination: interpretation of federal laws, regulations, policies and procedures; administrative and judicial processes; interaction with multiple agencies; balancing of national interests including foreign policy, national security, and humanitarian and international law; the exercise of discretion; and decisions about the most effective use of federal resources.

SAVE has been designed to simply verify that the immigration documents or information provided by an immigrant are accurate at that moment in time. For example, it will confirm that someone is:an asylum applicant; an applicant for lawful permanent residence who is married to a U.S. citizen; an applicant for a U-visa as a victim of domestic violence; a Cuban paroled into the U.S. who is not yet eligible for adjustment of status under the Cuban Adjustment Act; a lawful permanent resident in removal proceedings because of a shoplifting conviction; or a college student whose removal proceedings have been terminated as a matter of prosecutorial discretion. Notably, SAVE does not use the terms “lawfully” or “unlawfully” present in its response.

E-Verify, on the other hand, confirms employment eligibility. It is an Internet-based system operated by USCIS that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records. Like SAVE, E-Verify cannot be used to determine whether someone is lawfully present in the U.S. – it only verifies work authorization.

This IPC article addresses in more detail how the two programs work. Specifically SAVE was never designed to answer whether someone is lawfully present in the U.S., but government agencies have used its information to assess benefit eligibility. For example, a verification system whose current incarnation is SAVE was legislatively authorized by section 121 of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). It was originally intended for use by a limited number of benefits granting agencies. The 2005 REAL ID Act subsequently allowed use of SAVE in verifying immigration status for driver’s license issuance. Again, this is disturbing since SAVE is not reliable for this purpose and may make mistakes that could directly cause an eligible individual’s benefit to be delayed or denied.

Currently, in order to correct records when SAVE’s answer to a benefits granting agency is inaccurate, one must make an appointment with the local USCIS office, call the National Customer Service center or through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)/Privacy Act request. The website provides no information about a remedy when verification is done in connection with other purposes, or when a response from SAVE is unreasonably delayed.

In short, SAVE can’t save us from doing all the legal and factual analysis. Sorry to disappoint but there aren’t easy answers when it comes to immigration law.

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