Tag: E-Verify

E-Verify’s Standing in the States

The Arizona Republic and the Associated Press (AP) used Cato’s recent work to highlight the failure of E-Verify to turn off the jobs magnet that attracts unauthorized immigrants to the United States. Arizona has a shaky record on immigration enforcement, despite its laws and reputation to the contrary. Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has had zero E-Verify related cases since 2010 and the state Attorney General’s office has failed to update a list of E-Verify compliant businesses since at least 2012 – a requirement under state law.

Other states’ recent experiences also point to problems with E-Verify.

In Ohio, an unauthorized worker at a dairy company was charged on October 20th with identity fraud, after having been discovered to be using the Social Security number of a (legal) Arizona resident.  The fraud only came to light after the Arizonan discovered that his Social Security number was being used in Ohio. The fraud was not discovered by the routine E-Verify check that the unauthorized Ohio worker underwent in 2013. E-Verify confirmed the worker, who was utilizing the stolen SSN and fraudulently obtained documents based off of said number, as work-authorized and legal. The use of a valid number and fraudulent (but on the surface valid) documents by migrants is a problem with E-Verify that we’ve highlighted in the past.

California passed legislation to prevent employer misuse of E-Verify. Their law effectively duplicates federal restrictions on re-verification of employees, bars selective verification (targeting certain applicants over others), punishes use of E-Verify as an interview screening tool, and imposes a $10,000 fine for misuse. The intent of the new law is positive but it will be impossible to enforce. 

Finally, a controversial immigration bill has become law in North Carolina (I wrote about this in May). The new law lowers the threshold for mandated E-Verify to businesses with five or more employees, limits the types of identification that migrants can present (effectively banning use of Mexican consular identification cards), and prevents local and county governments from adopting so-called “sanctuary city” policies.

E-Verify imposes an economic cost on American workers and employers, does little to halt unlawful immigration because it fails to turn off the “jobs magnet,” and is an expansionary threat to American liberties.  During the housing collapse and Great Recession, Arizona enacted the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA), which mandated E-Verify for all new hires in the states.  In its early days, E-Verify had a reputation of effectiveness that, combined with the crashing economy, resulted in a large exodus of unlawful immigrants from Arizona.  After the economic recovery and E-Verify’s flaws were made clear, subsequent states like Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina have had far less success in using E-Verify to decrease the numbers of unauthorized immigrants in their states.  E-Verify’s bark was worse than its bite.   

This post was written with the help of Scott Platton

Employers Ignore E-Verify

Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, and South Carolina have mandated E-Verify for all new hires in their state (see Table 1), which means that every time an employee is hired the employer must use the E-Verify system to check the worker’s ability to legally work.  In our recent Cato Institute policy analysis, Jim Harper and I document that employers are not using E-Verify despite the mandates in those states.  Washington Examiner reporter Sean Higgins wrote an excellent piece expanding on our findings.

Table 1 

E-Verify Mandate Dates





South Carolina





E-Verify Simply Does Not Work

Nearly twenty years ago, John J. Miller of the Center for Equal Opportunity and Stephen Moore, then the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute, published a study responding to the rising demand for immigration law enforcement.

A National ID System: Big Brother’s Solution to Illegal Immigration” was the name of their Cato Institute policy analysis. They highlighted costs to the liberty of native-born Americans from systems that seek to root out illegal immigrants with identity cards and tracking. I reprised their study in a way and expanded on it seven years ago in “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

When I saw Alex Nowrasteh’s research into the results of mandates to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program, I was delighted to see what experience makes available to backers of “internal enforcement” who don’t have our nation’s freedoms in mind. E-Verify simply does not work. That’s the upshot of our new study, “Checking E-Verify: The Costs and Consequences of a National Worker Screening Mandate.”

E-Verify in the States

Many state legislatures are proposing to expand E-Verify – a federal government-run electronic system that allows or forces employers to check the identity of new hires against a government database.  In a perfect world, E-Verify tells employers whether the new employee can legally be hired.  In our world, E-Verify is a notoriously error-prone and unreliable system.

E-Verify mandates vary considerably across states.  Currently, Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and South Carolina have across the board mandates for all employers.  The state governments of Georgia, Utah, and North Carolina force all businesses with at least 10, 15, and 25 employees, respectively, to use E-Verify.  Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas mandate-Verify for public employees and state contractors, while Idaho and Virginia mandate E-Verify for public employees. The remaining states either have no state-wide mandates or, in the case of California, limit how E-Verify can be used by employers.

Despite E-Verify’s wide use in the states and problems, some state legislatures are considering forcing it on every employer within their respective states. 

In late April, the North Carolina’s House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 318) 80-39 to lower the threshold for mandated E-Verify to businesses with five or more employees.  HB 318 is now moving on to the North Carolina Senate where it could pass.  Nevada’s AB 172 originally included an E-Verify mandate that the bill’s author removed during the amendment process. Nebraska’s LB611 would have mandated E-Verify for all employers in the state.  LB611 has since stalled since a hostile hearing over in February.

E-Verify imposes a large economic cost on American workers and employers, does little to halt unlawful immigration because it fails to turn off the “jobs magnet,” and is an expansionary threat to American liberties.  Those harms are great while the benefits are uncertain – at best.  At a minimum, state legislatures should thoroughly examine the costs and supposed benefits of E-Verify before expanding or enacting mandates.

Scott Platton helped to write this blog post.

E-Verify Strikes Again: Worcester Wreath Co. Edition

Whenever the government magnanimously “offers” its assistance, all Americans should be skeptical. Recent confirmation of this fact has come from Harrington, Maine, where the federal government’s helpful assistance—via the employment verification system, E-Verify—has cost one small business thousands in fines.

Worcester Wreath Co. hires around 500 seasonal employees annually to help fill orders for handcrafted holiday wreaths and centerpieces. The majority of the wreaths are sold, while others go to the company’s Wreaths Across America program, which places free wreaths on headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. In short, this is an American company that supplies holiday goods and helps to honor deceased American veterans at no cost to the taxpayer.

Worcester Wreath, however, made the mistake of voluntarily using the Fed’s E-Verify system. E-Verify is an electronic employment eligibility verification system run by the federal government that is intended to weed unauthorized immigrants out of the labor force by allowing employers to check their eligibility against a government database. The employer enters the job applicant’s Social Security number and information into E-Verify which then checks it against a government database. 

Any potential issues are flagged with a tentative non-confirmation (TNC). Employers and employees have an opportunity to appeal the TNC, but a failed appeal (or failure to appeal) will result in a final non-confirmation (FNC) and the applicant being ruled as not work-authorized for legal employment in the United States.

Some 101 of Worcester Wreath’s seasonal employees were found by E-Verify to have employment-authorization issues. Six were retained by the company despite the issues and another six were fired and then rehired at a later date.

For the sin of employing 12 willing workers with statuses marked as questionable (not clear from the article whether a TNC or an FNC was issued) by the voluntarily used, notoriously unreliable, and largely ineffective E-Verify, the company was fined $25,000 ($2,083.33 per worker).

Worchester Wreath’s participation in E-Verify was voluntary but the fines were heavy. Fines like these on businesses of all sizes who employ seasonal workers will only get worse if E-Verify becomes mandatory. Instead of punishing businesses who supply free holiday decorations to the world’s most famous veterans’ cemetery, the Feds should attack the root problem and fix our legal immigration system.  

Scott Platton assisted in the writing of this piece.

Obama’s Deportation Numbers: Border and Interior Immigration Enforcement Are Substitutes, Not Complements

It’s become clear over the last few months that something very funny is going on with immigration enforcement statistics (here, here, and here).  The data generally show that interior enforcement, what most people commonly think of as “deportations” (but also includes I-9, Secure Communities, and E-Verify), has declined as a percentage of total removals.  Many of the removals appear to be unlawful immigrants apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for removal – a trend that began in 2012 and accelerated in 2013.  That transfer makes it appear as if there was more internal enforcement than there really was.  The administration is therefore deporting an increasing number of recent border crossers and a decreasing number of unlawful immigrants apprehended in the interior. 

It appears, then, that President Obama’s reputation for severe interior enforcement was earned for 2009, 2010, and 2011 but is somewhat unjustified in 2012 and 2013.  The Bipartisan Policy Center has an excellent report on the enormous court backlogs and other issues that have arisen due to interior immigration enforcement.  I’m waiting for additional information from a FOIA request before wading into the data surrounding the interior versus border removals controversy because we do not have data on internal enforcement numbers prior to 2008.    

Interior enforcement is only part of the government’s immigration enforcement strategy and must also be looked at as a component of broader immigration enforcement that includes border enforcement.

E-Verify Does Not “Turn Off” Job Magnet

One of the main claims of E-Verify’ ssupporters is that it will turn off the job magnet that incentivizes unauthorized immigration.  A recent Working Paper by economists Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny casts doubt on that.

They find that E-Verify mandates in the states have decreased wages of likely Mexican unauthorized immigrant men by about 7.8 percent and unauthorized immigrant Mexican women by 1.2 percent.  The likelihood of men being employed is not much affected by E-Verify but it does increase female employment and labor force participation – which makes sense in the context of making migration and employment decisions on the family level.  Clearly, E-Verify has diminished the anticipated wage gains from illegally immigrating to the United States.

However, E-Verify has not turned off the job magnet.  Assuming that unauthorized immigrant men and women earn the same wages, the estimated gains to coming here for the marginal Mexican immigrant is only slightly lowered.  Based on gender data from Pew and comparing the wages of identical workers in Mexico and the United States, here are some back of the envelope calculations showing how E-Verify has affected wages for unauthorized Mexican immigrants:

Unauthorized Immigrant Workers 









Monthly Wages in U.S. (Pre-E-Verify)

 $  1,470.80

 $  1,470.80

 $  1,470.80

Monthly Wages in Mexico




Wages Multiple from Working in U.S.




Monthly Wages (Post E-Verify)




Wages Multiple from Working in U.S. Under E-Verify




Sources: Center for Global Development, Pew Hispanic Center, and Dallas Fed Working Paper

E-Verify lowers the wage gain for all Mexican unauthorized workers from 2.53 times as great as in Mexico to 2.4 times as great – a whopping 5 percent decrease.  That’s not much to brag about considering E-Verify is supposed to be the lynchpin of future immigration enforcement.  It’s hard to see how E-Verify proponents can look at this small wage effect and conclude that E-Verify is worth it, given the enormous array of problems and burdens caused by it.  In practice, E-Verify does not turn off the job magnet that attracts unauthorized immigrants to our shores and will not if it is ever mandated.