A recent piece by Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), argued for mandatory E-Verify as “an important enforcement tool” and metaphorical “wall” that would prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants. Krikorian did not mention many of the problems with E-Verify so I will do that here after a brief description of the system.
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) created the rudimentary employment verification known as the I-9 form that every new employee must fill out. An E-Verify mandate would add another lay on top of the I-9 whereby employers, after collecting I-9 those forms, would enter the information on the form into a government website. The system compares these data 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 data are 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.”
First, Krikorian erroneously labels E-Verify as a “free online system.” E-Verify is not a gift from heaven, it was created by the federal government and funded by taxpayers. E-Verify is also not free because of the opportunity cost of the using the system. The current I-9 form costs employers an estimated 13.48 million man-hours each year. A national E-Verify mandate would add to that – perhaps substantially. Those are a lot of hours that employers could otherwise spend on growing their businesses but instead must waste complying with government rules.
Most E-Verify checks do not take much time but 46.5 percent of contested cases in 2012 took DHS eight work days or more to resolve. During that time, employers are justifiably reluctant to train new employees who might not be work authorized. Employers will likely avoid that cost by pre-screening job applicants and rejecting those who come back as tentative non-confirmations. Workers could thus get rejected from every job they apply for but not know a simple and correctable error in the E-Verify database is the reason. Although pre-screening employees would be illegal under a national E-Verify mandate, we shouldn’t expect it to work because the entire point of the system is to stop illegal behavior by employers in the first place.
Second, E-Verify is ineffective at detecting illegal immigrant workers. On top of that, E-Verify’s accuracy rates are notoriously difficult to judge. An audit of the system by the firm Westat found that an estimated 54 percent of unauthorized workers were incorrectly found to be work authorized by E-Verify because of rampant document fraud. E-Verify relies upon the documents presented by the workers themselves to their employer. Frequently, identity information comes from deceased Americans – a loophole the government seems incapable of closing. For instance, SSNs for roughly 6.5 million Americans who are 112 years old or older do not have a death date attached which means they can easily be used by illegal workers and nobody would complain. An illegal worker using the SSN of a deceased American would likely end up work authorized.