NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 13, 2008

When comprehensive immigration reform crashed in 2007, federal and state legislators searched the remains for salvageable pieces.  Some picked up the border wall, other legalization of undocumented workers; in Arizona, lawmakers seized on E-Verify -- a federal program that employers can use to check the employment status of new hires against federal databases run by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

For most employers, E-Verify is just an option, but in January 2008, Arizona began forcing everyone within state lines to run new hires by the fed.  The government is following suit, says Kerry Howley, senior editor of Reason.  In June, President Bush signed an executive order requiring that all federal contractors sign up and various congressmen are pushing to make E-Verify mandatory for the nation's 6 million employees.

However, the federal data have some problems:

  • The SSA estimates that 17.8 million (or 4.1 percent) of its records contain discrepancies.
  • About 5.3 percent of queries to E-Verify come back as "tentative nonconfirmations;" workers must either schlep to the Social Security Office to prove their status or go underground.
  • Many of the citizens forced to request federal permission to work will be women who took their husband's names and thus have outdated Social Security records, others will simply be victims of bad Social Security data, bad Homeland Security data or their employer's mistakes.
  • While native-born works have had their share of problems, foreign-born citizens are far more likely to be incorrectly flagged.

Moreover, because the databases are dodgy, employers are not supposed to fire workers until they have given them 8 days to contest E-Verify's "tentative nonconfirmations."  But an Inspector General's report found that almost half of employers using the program were "prescreening" potential employees before hiring, meaning they might never be given the chance to challenge erroneous disqualifications, says Howley.

Source: Kerry Howley, "Get in Line!" Reason, October 2008; Office the Inspector General, "Basic Pilot/E-Verify: Not a Magic Bullet," National Immigration Law Center, January 4, 2008.


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