This roundtable discussed the most recent trends in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program and how they impact customer agencies and benefits applicants.
Moderator: Wendy Kamenshine, Ombudsman’s Office
- Patricia Hatch, Maryland Office of Refugee Affairs
- John Roessler, USCIS Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE)
- Stephen Leak, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles
- Ellen Battistelli, National Immigration Law Center
Mr. Roessler explained that SAVE is an inter-governmental initiative designed to aid benefit-granting agencies in determining an applicant's immigration status, and thereby ensure that only entitled applicants receive Federal, state, or local public benefits and licenses. SAVE is an information service for benefit-issuing agencies, institutions, licensing bureaus, and other governmental entities. Mr. Roessler noted that SAVE does not make determinations on any applicant's eligibility for a specific benefit or license. He also emphasized that SAVE is working to improve its business process for customer agencies and benefit applicants, and welcomes suggestions and feedback from stakeholders directed to the Ombudsman's Office or through the USCIS Office of Public Engagement. He also shared that the SAVE Program is working on ways to provide more information to benefit applicants and their service providers in the community.
Ms. Battistelli expressed concern that SAVE lacks sufficient oversight and necessary funds, especially in light of recent state immigration-related legislation mandating the use of SAVE, expansion of the definition of "public benefit" in certain settings, as well as the increase in availability of public health benefits which require SAVE verification. She suggested the need for an outside evaluation to determine the efficacy, reliability, and impact of the SAVE program. Ms. Battistelli emphasized the importance of evaluating customer agencies to review their compliance with SAVE standards, and whether customer agencies understand how to properly work the SAVE program.
Ms. Hatch, an advocate for asylees and refugees who recently retired from the Maryland Office of Refugee Affairs, explained that SAVE works well for the mainstream populations, but there is a breakdown when verifying statuses such as withholding of removal and extensions for refugees/asylees and their derivatives, a particularly vulnerable population. This breakdown has a devastating effect on asylee and refugees accessing the time-restricted benefits to which they are entitled. Ms. Hatch also identified the challenges when dealing with multiple verification attempts after an initial verification, noting that the time required is burdensome because individuals often have to go through the same process again and again with each new agency, as SAVE does not record that an applicant has already gone through all three levels at one agency.
Ms. Hatch shared potential solutions including working with other DHS components to address the need for better database sharing capabilities or creating an interagency working group to tackle these asylee/refugee issues comprehensively.
As the Executive Director of the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles, and a representative of the Driver Identification and Verification System (DIVS) Committee of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, Mr. Leak shared a unique perspective on the role of the customer agency that provides the public benefit. Mr. Leak explained that state DMVs often differ in the ways they use the SAVE program depending upon the business needs of that DMV. In January 2011, the DIVS committee issued a report that compiled the feedback and recommendations from over 17 DMVs from across the country, and continues to work with DHS and the SAVE Program to identify areas for improvement, implement those recommendations, and make additional suggestions to simplify and streamline the SAVE Program for use by DMVs.
Conference attendees also had an opportunity to ask questions of the panelists, some of which are included below.
How does the SAVE Program respond when agencies do not comply with their Memorandums of Agreement?
Mr. Roessler explained that SAVE relies upon compliance through education. The SAVE Program provides training and instructions including best practices to better educate customer agencies on the proper techniques to verify benefit applicants. Mr. Roessler emphasized that 94 to 95 percent are completed at the first step of the three-step process.
If an individual goes through all three steps of the SAVE Program process and is ultimately verified, is there a way to update the SAVE Program to ensure they can be verified during the first step during the next application process?
Mr. Roessler noted that the SAVE program is not a separate database so there is no way to "update" the SAVE Program. SAVE verifies status information provided by a benefit applicant based on underlying records owned by other government agencies. SAVE has a good working relationship with the agencies that maintain these underlying databases including USCIS, CBP, and other DHS components, and works with them to correct records and update systems where possible. Mr. Roessler suggested that updating one's records with these agencies is the best way to ensure a timely verification. SAVE will be working to ensure a better process in the years to come.
What is your experience correcting information after an agency reports not being able to verify an individual through SAVE?
Ms. Hatch explained that it is often difficult for individuals with little experience in the United States to navigate the necessary channels to correct information without support from an advocate. She suggested that there was a need for communication and education with the larger advocacy community to ensure they understand the complexities of the SAVE process and how best to direct their clients. Mr. Roessler shared that individuals should be sure their records are correct in order to be properly verified through SAVE.
Some DMVs refuse to issue licenses for individuals who have withholding of removal or deferred action even if SAVE verifies them. Why does this happen?
Mr. Leak shared that laws governing eligibility for licenses vary state by state. Some states, such as Indiana, may allow for licenses to be issued to individuals with these statuses when SAVE verifies them properly, but others may not. There is no national uniformity because state law governs.
How soon after a nonimmigrant arrives will information be verifiable through the SAVE Program?
Mr. Roessler answered that after entering the United States, the individual should wait ten days as the information from CBP takes time before uploading into the database which SAVE relies upon.