February 1, 2017


Many years ago, in one of my many careers, I worked for a background check service. Employers are very selective about who they trust to work for them, so they hired our company to check them out.

For every project, the subject provided:

Full given name at birth
Place of birth
All aliases
Social Security number
Driver’s license number
Employment history
Education history
Their consent to very this information
Without leaving my desk, I had access to databases all over the country. Social Security Administration, DMV in every state, National Crime Information Center (FBI), Livescan, and Equifax. I could verify their employment, pay rate, licensing, criminal record, and college degrees. I even uncovered former employers that the applicant didn’t reveal.

Yeah, we were that good.

And yet, about 20% of the time, we were unable to find much of anything. We verified the information provided by the applicant, but little else. When a 40 year-old native-born American citizen has no credit profile, it’s weird. When his Social Security number had no activity until ten years ago, it’s suspicious. If he has a college degree but no record of attending high school, how can that be? When we interviewed their references, they offered little useful intel. All of these things can have perfectly innocent explanations, of course. But whatever the case, it doesn’t help their prospective employer to make an intelligent decision.

Today, millions of people have fled their homelands in Africa and the Middle East. They seek sanctuary in another nation, and the USA is at or near the top of their list. As a Christian living in a prosperous country, I believe that we have a duty to help. But how?

The US government tells us that they’re performing extra-rigorous background checks on these people. It can take two years or more. And for this, I am grateful. We want to do the right thing, but not invite a terrorist in to kill us. 

But how? These people have no reliable bonafides. They have no fingerprints on file anywhere, no verifiable driver’s license or birth certificate, no credit report. Do they have a criminal record? No way to tell. One thing for sure: the governments of their home countries are not eager to cooperate. Any official files that might exist, are far out of reach to their American screeners.

So the president tells me that he’s running a brutal background check on every potential refugee. Good for him. This gives me great pause, and no comfort. This matter of keeping our country safe is, on a good day, a messy business. Sometimes we just don’t want to know how the sausage is made.

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