President Obama signed legislation on September 28, 2012 extending the E-Verify program, which allows employers to access an array of government databases to check the work authorization of new hires, until 2015. The federal government claims that more than 400,000 employers use the system, which is voluntary for most employers. Some states have enacted legislation making it mandatory for some or all employers to use E-Verify, and employers with federal contracts must use it. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld states’ ability to make E-Verify mandatory.
The E-Verify System
E-Verify is an internet-based service that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) describes as a companion to the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. Employers may use the system to compare a new employee’s I-9 documents, which should demonstrate the employee’s identity and right to work in the U.S., to a set of federal databases. According to USCIS, E-Verify compiles 445 million records from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and 80 million records from the Department of Homeland Security.
In an op-ed supporting the system, U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) claim that E-Verify is more reliable than the system of maintaining paper or electronic I-9 records. The regular I-9 system relies on an employer’s determination that a document appears genuine on its face, which they say can lead to rampant fraud that undermines the system.
E-Verify’s Track Record
Statistics provided by USCIS for fiscal year 2011 show that E-Verify searches immediately cleared 98.3% of employees to work. The system returned negative results, known as “mismatches,” in a mere 1.67% of searches. (Due to rounding, the percentages do not sum.) Among the negative results:
– 67.7%, or 1.13% of all searches, did not contest the mismatch, which could mean that they knew better than to argue or that they did not know they had a right to argue;
– 16.7%, or 0.28% of all searches, were contested and subsequently confirmed as authorized to work;
– 0.06%, or 0.01% of all searches, were contested and confirmed not to be authorized for work; and – 14.4%, or 0.24% of all searches, remain unresolved.
Mandatory Use of E-Verify
Around 409,000 employers use E-Verify, according to USCIS, and 1,300 reportedly sign up every week. For most employers, the system is voluntary. The Federal Acquisition Regulation E-Verify clause, however, makes it mandatory for employers with federal contracts or subcontracts.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least ten states have made E-Verify mandatory within those states. A challenge to an Arizona law mandating E-Verify use by employers, based on the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, went before the U.S. Supreme Court in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, 131 S. Ct. 1968 (2011). Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority that the savings clause in the federal immigration statute allows for state legislation, so federal law does not preempt state laws mandating E-Verify.
It is hard to argue with technologies that reduce paperwork, especially when it reduces a small business’ need to maintain paper records. E-Verify may prove to have problems with security, however, as it allows the exchange of social security information and other personal data across the internet. It may actually increase the risk of identity theft or other types of fraud in that respect. Also, it is difficult to reconcile the claims of Reps. Smith and Gallegly, who claim that the I-9 system allows the forgery of “millions” of employment documents, with the USCIS’ own statistics, showing that around one-tenth of one percent of searches turn up verifiable fraud. It may be that employers who might tolerate document fraud simply do not use E-Verify, but the difference in rhetoric and statistics is striking.
More Blog Posts:
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Self-Check: The Toolkit Every Worker Should Use, ImmigRantings, March 26, 2012
Getting People Hired Can Be … Well, a Job, ImmigRantings, August 8, 2011
Photo credit: ‘E-Verify Logo’ by United States Department of Homeland Security [Public domain], via Wikipedia.