Last week’s arrest of 23 workers at O’Hare International Airport for allegedly using fraudulent airport security badges exposed continuing weaknesses in securing the border. The joint law enforcement investigation between the Cook County Sheriff’s Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) disclosed that more than 100 workers employed by Ideal Staffing Solutions, Bensenville, Illinois illegally obtained airport security badges issued by the Chicago Department of Aviation. These badges allowed the workers to enter secure areas (including the tarmac) while loading pallets, freight and meals for airline companies doing business at O’Hare.

Ideal Staffing Solutions allegedly provided some workers with deactivated airport security badges issued in other names, allowing them to bypass the appropriate screening. The workers were allegedly instructed to pick a badge that most closely resembled their own likeness. ICE agents reviewed more than 150 airport security badge applications submitted to the Department of Aviation for 120 employees of Ideal Staffing and learned that 110 of the applications listed Social Security numbers that either did not exist or belonged to other persons, some of whom were deceased.

This should not have happened in the post 9/11 environment where access to secure areas at our air and seaports was tightened through enhanced background checks and investigations of current and prospective employees. Ideal Staffing Solutions (as charged) violated the public trust by entering into a conspiracy with the illegal workers to circumvent the appropriate security screening. But one must question how it is possible for anyone to use a deactivated airport security badge to gain access at O’Hare, and how it is possible to use a Social Security number that either does not exist or belongs to someone else to get a badge.

The deactivated security badges should have been immediately deleted from the system (and destroyed), and a simple check of the Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS) would have revealed that these workers were unauthorized to work in the US. The SSNVS is made available to public and private industry at no cost by the Social Security Administration to determine the validity of a Social Security number. Although a “non-match” does not require immediate termination of employment, it does require the employer and employee to rectify the discrepancy.

All the checks, balances and investigations in the world to secure the border do not matter if we fail to use them. The investigation at O’Hare not only addressed an immediate threat but also exposed additional areas that need to be reviewed and tightened.