Congress mandated in 1986 (the Immigration Reform and Control Act) that in order for immigrants to access social service benefits and driver’s licenses the benefit issuing agency had to check with the immigration authorities (now the Department of Homeland Security) to assure that the applicant was legally present and entitled to the benefit.
This resulted in the establishment of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system. In 2016, DHS responded to more than 20 million SAVE inquiries – which demonstrates the enormous size of the immigrant population seeking benefits.
The efficacy of SAVE has been challenged by immigrant defenders – often with their major focus on illegal aliens – and it has been subject to several studies by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). A follow-up evaluation of SAVE by the GAO, “Immigration Status Verification for Benefits,” was released in March, (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-204) The report notes that ostensibly, the SAVE system works efficiently, noting that even in cases which required follow-up records verification, DHS reported that its additional verification responses were 99.16 percent accurate. And, any adverse finding remains subject to appeal.
What is noteworthy in the new GAO study is that it found a major share of cases in which DHS informed the requesting agency of the need to submit additional information, because the status of the benefit applicant could not be immediately verified, those requests were being ignored.
The report notes, “,,,in fiscal year 2016, agencies that did not complete additional verification 98 to 100 percent of the time included a state children’s health program, a department of motor vehicles, a state unemployment insurance department, two counties (from the same state) responsible for elections and voter registration, a county property appraiser’s exemptions investigations unit, and a state health care services department. These seven agencies requested a combined total of over 1.7 million SAVE checks and did not complete additional verification over 245,000 times…”. In 2016, there were nearly 4 million SAVE inquiries that resulted in follow-up requests for more information, and in nearly 60 percent of those cases further action was not completed.
The GAO faulted DHS for inadequate follow-up in these situations and lack of adequate guidance to users of the SAVE system on the follow-up procedures.
While all of the dropped verification cases are unlikely to result from ineligible applications for benefits, it is probable that there are numerous instances in which immigrants or resident nonimmigrants are slipping through the lax follow-up procedures for benefit screening.