Dairy Employee Arrested In Tibbetts Murder Exposes Immigration Loophole
A dairy farm employee charged with the kidnapping and murder of Mollie Tibbetts used another person’s identity and documentation to gain employment.
“Our employee is not who he said he was,” says Dane Lang, manager of Yarrabee Farms where the person charged had been employed. Cristhian Bahama Rivera had been employed at the Brooklyn, Iowa dairy for four years and was considered an “employee in good standing.” When Rivera was hired in 2014 he presented an out-of-state government-issued photo identification card and a Social Security card.
Lang says they used the Social Security Number Verification Service to verify the documents presented by Rivera at the time of employment, not the e-verify system as previously suggested. The two systems are similar, but not the same.
“The Social Security Number Verification Service is a system designed only to verify social security numbers,” says Kelly Fortier, partner and immigration sub-practice leader with Michael Best & Friedrich, LLP. “It’s not a system that should be used for immigration verification. It’s a system that should be used to make sure that the payroll withholding is going to a legitimate number.”
If someone uses another person’s name and social security number and that number is valid, it is unlikely to be flagged, Fortier says.
The e-verify system processes employee I-9 form information through two separate databases, the Social Security Administration's database and the Department of Homeland Security databases, according to Fortier. Even with the additional process, she says it’s unlikely e-verify would have found the discrepancy because e-verify does not have photo matches for state-issued identification.
“There’s a good chance e-verify would not have flagged someone using someone else's state ID card and a social security number,” Fortier says. She says the system is more likely to catch the misuse of documents issued by the federal government, for example, through the permanent residence card, which is issued by the Department of Homeland Security. "When that document is run through the employer will actually see a copy of what the government issued and they can check right away to see if the document on the e-verify screen looks like the document presented.”
Fortier says it’s much harder to get away with identity theft in that situation.
“Although e-verify can flag many immigration issues, it really can’t flag a lot of those identity theft issues when someone is using legitimate identity,” Fortier says.
Knowing when a prospective employee is using someone else’s identity is one of the most difficult things for an employer, says Fortier. If someone is able to obtain legitimate and legal documentation, and the picture on the photo ID closely resembles the person applying for employment, Fortier says there’s nothing in the system that would flag that person as illegal.
In employee verification situations, the employer is only obligated to verify that the documentation provided by the new hire appears genuine and relates to the person presenting it, Fortier says. Employers are not expected to be document experts. Producers should focus on fully completing and maintaining I-9 forms to verify that they have gone through the process of validating documentation. Fortier recommends that employers revisit I-9 documentation on an annual basis to make sure all forms are current and complete, including having a third-party review at least a sample of I-9 forms at least every three years.