September 7, 2018 10:15AM

E‐​Verify Wouldn’t Have Prevented Mollie Tibbetts’ Murder

Shortly after Iowa prosecutors charged illegal immigrant Christian Rivera with the murder of Molly Tibbetts in August, his Iowa employer erroneously stated that E‐​Verify had approved him for legal work. That later turned out to be false as his employer, Yarrabee Farms, ran his name and Social Security Number (SSN) through another system called Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) that merely verified that the name and number matched, not E‐​Verify. That mix‐​up has inspired many to argue that an E‐​Verify mandate for all new hires would have stopped Rivera from working and, thus, prevented the murder of Mollie Tibbetts. That’s almost certainly not true. New details reveal that E‐​Verify would likely not have prevented Rivera from working. 

E‐​Verify is an electronic eligibility for employment verification system run by the federal government at taxpayer expense. Created as a pilot program in 1996, E‐​Verify is intended to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants by verifying the identity information they submit for employment against federal government databases in the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security. The theory behind E‐​Verify is that illegal immigrants won’t have the identity documents to pass E‐​Verify (hold your laughter) so they won’t be able to work, thus sending them all home and preventing more from coming. That naïve theory fails when confronted with the reality of the Rivera case.

Rivera submitted the name John Budd on an out of state drivers license and an SSN that matched that name to his employer, Yarrabee Farms, when he was hired in 2014. Yarrabee Farms ran the SSN and name John Budd through the Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) to guarantee that they matched for tax purposes (Yarrabee Farms confused SSNVS with E‐​Verify). SSNVS matched the name with the SSN and approved Rivera‐​disguised‐​as‐​Budd to work. 

E‐​Verify would also have matched the name with the SSN and approved Rivera for work. The systematic design flaw in E‐​Verify is that it only verifies the documents that a worker hands his employers, not the worker himself. Thus, if an illegal immigrant hands the identity documents of an American citizen to an E‐​Verify‐​using employer then it verifies the documents and the worker with the documents gets the job – just as happened here with Rivera handing Yarrabee Farms the identity of John Budd. That’s why 54 percent of illegal immigrants run through E‐​Verify are approved for legal work. E‐​Verify is worse than a coin toss at identifying known illegal immigrants. 

Rivera’s identity would even have gotten around the DRIVE program in Iowa because he handed his employer an out‐​of‐​state drivers license. DRIVE is intended to link other identity information from the Iowa state’s DMV to the job applicants as an extra layer of security. If any of that information doesn’t match the information that the applicant gives to his employer then his employer is supposed to realize the applicant is an illegal worker. However, the flaw in DRIVE is that it only works for the state‐​level DMV and fails to add extra security for out‐​of‐​state drivers licenses. Thus, Rivera’s out‐​of‐​state identity would not have been caught by DRIVE. 

Rivera is a low‐​skilled and poor illegal immigrant from Mexico whose English language skills are so bad that he needs an interpreter in court. Yet he would easily have been able to fool E‐​Verify, a sophisticated government immigration enforcement program praised by members of Congress, the President, and the head of at least one DC think‐​tank, by using somebody else’s name and SSN with a driver’s license from another state. 

A law passed in 1986 has required workers in the United States to present a government identification to work legally – a requirement that has resulted in an explosion in identity theft. Rivera likely stole Budd’s identity to get a job, an unintended consequence of that 1986 law. A national E‐​Verify mandate will vastly expand identity theft

As a further wrinkle, if Yarrabee Farms found any of Rivera’s identity documents or information suspicious and confronted Rivera with their suspicions concerning Rivera’s identity, his name, race, or age, then Yarrabee Farms would likely have run afoul of other labor laws and exposed itself to a serious lawsuit. The federal government expects employers to enforce immigration laws but not to the point that they can profile applicants. The safe choice is not to profile anyone and hire those who present documents so long as they are not obviously fake.

The last wrinkle is that many businesses don’t comply with E‐​Verify in states where it is mandated. In the second quarter of 2017, only 59 percent of new hires in Arizona were run through E‐​Verify even though the law mandates that 100 percent be run through. Arizona has the harshest state‐​level immigration enforcement laws in the country and they can’t even guarantee compliance with E‐​Verify. There is even evidence that Arizona’s E‐​Verify mandate temporarily increased property crime committed by a subpopulation that is more likely to be illegally present in the United States, prior to that population learning that E‐​Verify is easy to fool. South Carolina, the state with the best‐​reputed enforcement of E‐​Verify, only had 55 percent compliance in the same quarter of 2017. The notion that a lackluster Washington will do better than Arizona or South Carolina is too unserious a charge to rebut. 

Since SSNVS matched the name John Budd with a valid SSN and Rivera used an out‐​of‐​state drivers license, E‐​Verify would not have caught him. E‐​Verify is a lemon of a system that is not a silver bullet to stop illegal immigration. It wouldn’t have stopped Rivera from working legally in Iowa. E-Verify’s cheerleaders should stop using the tragic murder of Mollie Tibbetts as a sales pitch for their failed government program.