While the government cracks down on employers who are unable to prove the legal immigration status of their employees, one audit has found the U.S. government has a hard time living up to the same standards.
A recently published government report the Office of Inspector General looked at 40 randomly selected federal employees of the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Assistance to America (VISTA) Member Support Unit and found that 27 did not have sufficient documentation to verify their legal residency in the United States.
Despite questions about their citizenship, workers at the VISTA, which is focusing on fighting poverty in America, may have received benefits courtesy of the American taxpayer. In at least three cases, volunteers did not have papers of any kind proving their legal status in the United States.
Volunteers for AmeriCorps and VISTA are required to be US citizens, a U.S. national or lawful permanent resident. Among the benefits of signing up for a year of public service with VISTA are a "modest" living allowance, healthcare benefits, childcare assistance and student loan forbearance or deferment while in service.
The audit also notes that of the VISTA workers with questionable legal status, a majority may end up receiving education awards.
Of the 27 members whose legal residency is questionable, 18 members elected to receive an end-of-service education award. Additionally, one of the three members for whom documentation of legal residency verification was missing elected to receive an education award. Verifying the legal residency of VISTA applicants by using a document or combination of documents that can be issued to persons without legal residency may allow ineligible individuals to receive education awards to which they are not entitled.
AmeriCorp education awards for those enrolled as VISTA members can be as much as $5,350, according to the website. VISTA currently has 6,500 workers who are deployed on 1,200 different projects across the nation.
A Corporation for National Service spokesperson sent the following statement to CBS News:
We agree with the Inspector General's recommendation on the need to apply additional documentation requirements for program participants who opt to receive a post-service education award. Specifically, we will not accept a driver's license and social security card as proof of eligibility for an education award. While a driver's license and social security card document legal residency, which is required to participate in the program, neither establishes citizenship status which is required to receive a post-service education award. We will adopt the Inspector General's recommendation as to required documentation for the education award. We are moving forward on that recommendation as well as following up on the individuals identified in the report to ensure that benefits are provided only to eligible individuals.