Tag: E-Verify

E-Verify Is Not an Effective Immigration Enforcement System, as Mississippi ICE Raids Show

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided many meat processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 suspected illegal immigrants. The raids were front page news as some of their children were pleading on television for the government to release their parents. Political pundits were busy excusing the raids and calling for more or highlighting the plight of the families left behind and the supposed hypocrisy of immigration enforcers who aren’t targeting President Trump’s properties. 

Although the plight of families and discrepancies in enforcement based on possible political sensitivities is worth investigating, the long-term lesson from the Mississippi raids is that E-Verify does not stop the hiring of illegal immigrants. Mississippi passed a mandate that required all firms to run all new hires through E-Verify at the point of hire as of July 1, 2011. According to the promises made by E-Verify proponents, there should have been zero illegal immigrants employed in Mississippi – yet ICE had to raid some plants there. Rather than showing the strength of government immigration enforcement efforts, the raids in Mississippi show that E-Verify mandates are incapable of preventing illegal immigrants from working. 

This post will explain how E-Verify functions (I won’t say “works”), how illegal immigrants get around the system, how immigration restrictionists want to reform E-Verify, and why the real solution is increasing legal immigration.

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.


House Republicans Consider E-Verify Mandate as Part of “Compromise” Bill. What Will Happen When E-Verify Fails to Deliver?

House Republicans worked over the weekend to revise the Ryan immigration “compromise” bill in an attempt to bring enough Republicans on board to pass it.  Many restrictionist Republicans in Congress voted against the harsher Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act last week because it granted a path to legal status without citizenship for some Dreamers.  Although SAF did not offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers, some House Republicans voted against it because they consider a grant of legal status of any kind for Dreamers to be amnesty.  The political problem is that Ryan’s “compromise” bill enhances the charge of amnesty because it offers a path to citizenship for a small number of Dreamers.  As a result, House Republicans are considering a national E-Verify mandate to get the restrictionists on board with the Ryan “compromise” bill (they are also considering an agricultural guest worker visa program so Republicans from agricultural districts aren’t dissuaded by E-Verify). 

This political horse-trading won’t likely work but E-Verify has some serious problems today that could grow into worse ones tomorrow.  People must consider these problems before getting on the E-Verify bandwagon.

E-Verify is a federal electronic eligibility for employment verification system for employers to check the identities of new hires against government databases to guarantee that they are legally eligible to work.  The system is intended to exclude illegal immigrants from the workforce to reduce the incentive to immigrate here in the first place.  E-Verify is mandated for all new hires in a few states and some other categories of employers but not nationwide.  If Congress ever mandates E-Verify nationwide then all native-born Americans would also have to be run through E-Verify and get government permission to work in order for E-Verify to have a chance of meeting its objective.  Any interior immigration enforcement system that seeks to reduce the employment of illegal immigrants, including E-Verify, will have to be used against legal immigrants and native-born Americans too. 

E-Verify has severe systematic problems and will not do much to turn off the wage magnet that attracts illegal immigrants.  This is a problem for several reasons but what worries me the most is what would happen after Congress mandated E-Verify and then they realize that it doesn’t work.  What steps will Congress then take to make electronic verification for employment “work” as they intend? 

Mandatory E-Verify will Increase Identity Theft

Nancy Berryhill, an Acting Commissioner of Social Security, recently testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Social Security on the widespread use of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) beyond their intended function.  Most of her testimony concerned the history of SSNs, past security procedures, and proposed future ones.  In a bizarre sentence that contradicts much of the rest of her testimony, Berryhill stated that, “Mandatory use of E-Verify by employers would help reduce the incidence of fraudulent use of SSNs.”  That is exactly backward.  Mandatory E-Verify will greatly expand the fraudulent use of SSNs.

E-Verify is an electronic employment eligibility verification system run by the federal government that is supposed to check the identity information of new hires against government databases to verify that they are legally eligible to work.  Congress created E-Verify to deny employment to illegal immigrants and reduce the incentive for them to come and remain in the United States.  E-Verify is not yet mandated nationwide but several states have mandated its use, to various degrees, and many large employers currently use it.

E-Verify builds on the current rudimentary employment verification known as the I-9 form that every new employee must fill out thanks to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).  An E-Verify mandate would add another layer on top of the I-9 whereby employers, after collecting I-9 forms, would enter the information on them into a government website.  The E-Verify system then compares that I-9 information with information held in the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases.  The employee is work authorized if the databases decide that the information is valid.  A flag raised by either database returns a “tentative non-confirmation,” requiring the employee and employer to sort out whatever error has been flagged.  If the employee and employer cannot sort out the errors then the employer must terminate the new employee through a “final non-confirmation.”  The I-9 form and E-Verify have serious problems, including the encouragement of rampant identity theft, but those problems would only grow with an E-Verify mandate.

Democrats and Republicans Should Both Oppose E-Verify

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, a group that meets every 20 years to recommend changes to Florida’s state constitution, yesterday rejected a proposal to add mandatory E-Verify to the ballot next November.  The American Business Immigration Coalition and Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund led the fight against the proposal (full disclosure: those groups used Cato’s research in their efforts to stop E-Verify and I did have contact with them during the Florida debate).  The most convincing arguments against E-Verify were those that highlighted its inaccuracies, potential damage to the economy, and that it would not even effectively restrict illegal immigrant access to employment

Just to recap, E-Verify is a federal electronic eligibility for employment verification system whereby employers are supposed to check the identities of new hires against government databases to guarantee that they are legally eligible to work.  Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires, several other states have mandated it for some hires, and the federal government requires it for some occupations. 

Democrats and Republicans have both embraced E-Verify for different reasons in recent years.  Republicans did so because they believe that it is a useful enforcement mechanism and Democrats because they believe that they can trade it for a more generous legalization or other reforms to the legal immigration system.  Indeed, increasingly bitter partisan disagreements over immigration policy have not affected support for E-Verify.  Perhaps they should. 

There are many good reasons for Democrats to oppose E-Verify nationally and on the state level.  The first is that E-Verify is an immigration enforcement tool that disproportionately returns incorrect results for legal immigrants, Hispanic Americans, and those who have hyphenated last names (most likely to be women).  An incorrect result can temporarily bar a worker from working or, if the proper legal procedures aren’t followed, push the worker afflicted into long-term unemployment.  Democrats increasingly argue that they represent those three groups so they have political incentives to remove regulatory barriers that keep them from gaining employment.

Businesses Don’t Comply with E-Verify Mandates

E-Verify is an electronic eligibility for employment verification system run by the federal government. It is supposed to check the identity information of new hires against government databases to see if they are legally eligible to work. The government created E-Verify to deny employment to illegal immigrants as a means of turning off the wage magnet that attracts so many here in the first place, but it has serious and unsolvable problems. Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires: Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi. Barely a majority of new hires in those four states are run through E-Verify currently.  A federal mandate would probably have even lower compliance rates.  

E-Verify compliance rates are very low. In the second quarter of 2017, only about 56 percent of all new hires in states with E-Verify mandates were actually run through the program even though the law in those states mandates that 100 percent of them should have been checked against E-Verify (Figure 1).  It doesn’t get much better when looking at the individual states although I only have data going back to the fourth quarter of 2009 (Table 1).  Over the course of E-Verify’s mandate on the state level, compliance with the program has not improved (Figure 2).  The peak compliance rate for each state was 67 percent in Arizona in the third quarter of 2015, 66 percent in Alabama in the first quarter of 2016, 62 percent in the first quarter of 2015, and 53 percent in the third quarter of 2013.  That is a low level of compliance for a program that is supposed to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants. 

This blog shows lower compliance rates for E-Verify than in previous publications of mine.  That is because the most recent FOIAs actually exclude the number of E-Verify self-checks and are guaranteed to be tied to the location of the hire rather than the location of the E-Verify check.  In previous FOIAs, the government did not specify that hires in some states were run through E-Verify in other states.  This most recent data corrects for that confusion and allows for a more accurate comparison. 

It is time that policymakers in Washington, DC look at the states where E-Verify is mandatory to judge how it works in reality rather than relying on Pollyanish odes about its intended effects. The low E-Verify compliance rates in states where the program is mandated point to serious problems that its cheerleaders must directly address.

Figure 1

E-Verify Compliance Rates in States with Mandated E-Verify

Sources: Department of Homeland Security and Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Survey


Figure 2

E-Verify Compliance Rates by State, Fourth Quarter of 2009 through Second Quarter of 2017


Sources: Department of Homeland Security and Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Survey



Table 1

E-Verify Checks as a Percent of All New Hires

Year.Quarter Arizona Alabama South Carolina Mississippi
2009.4 38% NM NM NM
2010.1 59% NM NM NM
2010.2 61% NM NM NM
2010.3 65% NM NM NM
2010.4 46% NM NM NM
2011.1 61% NM NM NM
2011.2 56% NM NM NM
2011.3 61% NM NM 45%
2011.4 44% NM NM 41%
2012.1 59% 40% 52% 44%
2012.2 62% 54% 50% 45%
2012.3 63% 60% 57% 51%
2012.4 49% 48% 46% 45%
2013.1 61% 58% 58% 50%
2013.2 61% 57% 54% 48%
2013.3 65% 60% 60% 53%
2013.4 45% 47% 46% 37%
2014.1 61% 61% 57% 47%
2014.2 62% 58% 54% 43%
2014.3 66% 62% 59% 48%
2014.4 50% 51% 49% 40%
2015.1 62% 64% 62% 47%
2015.2 60% 59% 57% 43%
2015.3 67% 65% 60% 47%
2015.4 45% 53% 46% 36%
2016.1 59% 66% 60% 48%
2016.2 60% 60% 53% 45%
2016.3 59% 62% 55% 45%
2016.4 49% 53% 45% 42%
2017.1 61% 63% 56% 47%
2017.2 59% 61% 55% 46%

Sources: Department of Homeland Security and Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Survey

Note: NM means “no E-Verify mandate.”

Note: The Author made some corrections to statistics and figures on April 26, 2018 based on new federal government information.

Serious Problems with South Carolina’s E-Verify Mandate

E-Verify is a federal government program that allows businesses to check the identities of new hires against federal databases to judge whether they are eligible to legally work in the United States.  The goal of the program is to deny illegal immigrants work in the United States.  E-Verify has serious problems as it misidentifies a small portion of legal workers as illegal immigrants, imposes a serious regulatory burden on employers and employees, increases employee turnover costs, is expensive, stimulates black market document forging and identity theft, might increase crime, and fails in its primary function of turning off the wage magnet

Despite all of those problems, the best thing about E-Verify is that many employers do not use it in states where it is mandated and workers have many ways to get around the system, reducing the cost of the mandate.  Government data on the number of E-Verify checks that run in each state are sketchy and seem to change with each new FOIA but the most recent one I received from the Department of Homeland Security revealed that my previous work likely overestimated the rates of E-Verify compliance in South Carolina. 

South Carolina mandated E-Verify for all employers in 2011 but delayed the start date until January 1, 2012, because (surprise) the system was more complicated than its proponents claimed and the state government did not want to punish every small employer in the state for noncompliance.  Despite that, proponents of mandatory E-Verify point to South Carolina as a model system because the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR) conducts random audits of employers to guarantee that they use the system for all new hires. 

Figure 1
South Carolina E-Verify Compliance

Sources: Department of Homeland Security and Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Survey.