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Mollie Tibbett's Murder Highlights the Failures Within the Legal Status Check System

The systems offered to employers by the U.S. government to check the legal status of its employees has gaps, which allow identity fraud and other types of issues to fall through the cracks.


Employers like Yarrabee Farms opted not to use the E-Verify program, which companies can use on a voluntary basis. Instead, the company used the Social Security Administration’s verification service.

As long as the person has a valid ID and Social Security number, he or she will be qualified to “legally” work in the United States. Even though the person “identified” by the ID may pass a background check, there is no safety net in place to verify if its that person’s actual identity.

Unfortunately, this gap played an integral part in the case of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the 24-year-old now charged with murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. He provided his, now, ex-employer an out-of-state ID card and Social Security number. He worked at Yarrabee Farms for almost four years under a false name.

There are a plethora of ways to get a legal ID in this country. Documents are often stolen or forged. There have been instances of people having an inside connection in various Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain legal identification.

And, although employers check those documents, it’s unlawful to refuse an ID card that meets legal requirements for employment. They are required to reject documents that do not “reasonably appear to be genuine,” but even that can be difficult to prove.

The E-Verify system gives employers photos for passports and other federal documents that they can compare with what an employee has given them, but not state-issued driver’s licenses or IDs. An employer in Iowa presented with an unfamiliar out-of-state driver’s license may not be able to spot a fake ID.

When asked his thoughts about the situation, DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti stated: “For decades, employers were able to hire without the federal government confirming identity. It wasn’t required. More recently, the system has tightened up, but it’s still not perfect. If a few employers went to prison for hiring undocumented people, the problem would not have gone on for as long as it has.”

He continued, “There are legal ways to hire foreign workers. For example, Donald Trump has hired H2B workers for Mar-a-Lago for years. Unfortunately, under his administration, many of these programs have been cut.”

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