E-Verify Has Delayed or Cost Half a Million Jobs for Legal Workers

E-Verify is a government national identification system that employers currently use voluntarily to screen out unauthorized immigrant workers. Members of Congress want to make the program mandatory for all employers with the Legal Workforce Act, which has passed the House Judiciary Committee three times. This legislation would be the largest employer regulation in terms of scale in the history of the United States, applying to every single employer and every single worker in the country and also roping in several agencies to run it. 

The system has already proven remarkably ineffective at its intended purpose—keeping unauthorized workers away from jobs. In fact, in many cases, it does the opposite—keeping authorized workers away from employment. While many have focused on how making it mandatory would increase the number of these errors, E-Verify is already causing headaches and costing jobs for legal workers.  In fact, from 2006 to 2016, legal workers had about 580,000 jobs held up due to E-Verify errors, and of these, they lost roughly 130,000 jobs entirely due to E-Verify mistakes.

Here’s how E-Verify catches innocent people. The system checks information all workers must provide on their I-9 forms against the databases of either the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for legal immigrants or the Social Security Administration (SSA) for U.S. citizens. If the system fails to verify this information, it will issue a “tentative nonconfirmation” (TNC). People who receive a TNC must challenge it within two weeks or it turns into a “final nonconfirmation” (FNC), and the employer must fire them.

Legal workers can receive an erroneous TNC for a variety of reasons. Employers may have put their information into the system incorrectly. This is especially common for hyphenated names or individuals with multiple last names. It can also happen if someone changes their name, but SSA or DHS has failed to update their entry in the database. Errors can also occur when SSA or DHS employees enter a person’s information into the database.

Whatever the case, the employee has an affirmative duty to fix the issue. They must formally contest the error. If they are a citizen, they need to physically visit a Social Security Administration office to figure out the problem. If they are a legal foreign worker, they need to go to DHS. This process can take months because the worker has no idea what the problem is. In 2012, it took more than 8 days to resolve a TNC for more than a third of all legal workers who received one.

Unfortunately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data fails to report in more detail how long these took to resolve, which could potentially have taken months. For workers who need to submit a Privacy Act request to obtain their records, it can take more than three months even to obtain a response, let alone fix the underlying problem. As the Table below highlights, from 2006 to 2016, legal workers had to overcome 450,039 tentative nonconfirmations. Under the Legal Workforce Act, employers could condition employment based on an E-Verify confirmation, meaning all of these workers would lose weeks or months of wages. If the job was temporary, they could lose it entirely.

Table: E-Verify Cases and Errors, 2006 to 2016

Year

Total Cases TNC % Overcome TNCs Overcome Erroneous FNC % FNC Errors Total Error % Total Errors

2006

1,743,654

0.78%

13,513

0.50%

8,733

1.28%

22,246

2007

3,271,871

0.63%

20,449

0.33%

10,925

0.96%

31,374

2008

6,648,845

0.45%

29,920

0.20%

13,195

0.65%

43,114

2009

8,717,711

0.30%

26,153

0.13%

11,182

0.43%

37,335

2010

16,458,448

0.30%

49,375

0.09%

13,998

0.39%

63,373

2011

16,612,333

0.28%

46,515

0.08%

13,187

0.36%

59,701

2012

20,205,359

0.26%

52,534

0.07%

14,893

0.33%

67,427

2013

23,937,505

0.22%

52,663

0.05%

10,838

0.27%

63,500

2014

27,074,552

0.19%

51,442

0.04%

11,235

0.23%

62,677

2015

30,538,992

0.18%

54,970

0.04%

11,082

0.22%

66,052

2016

32,815,564

0.16%

52,505

0.03%

10,144

0.19%

62,649

Total

188,024,834

 

450,039

 

129,411

 

579,450

Sources: Total cases (2006-2014): U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “E-Verify History and Milestones,” January 19, 2017. TNC share overcome (2011-2016): U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), “E-Verify Program Statistics – Performance.” USCIS archived pages. E-Verify Erroneous TNC and FNC rates (2006-2010): Westat, “Evaluation of the Accuracy of E-Verify Findings,” July 2012. (Note FNC error rate in Westat expressed in terms of share of FNCs.)

On Saving the Dollar

Every time I say something nice about monetary rules, as I did in my last post here, some Alt-M readers wonder why I’m doing that instead of championing free banking and choice in currencies. Have I given up my former views concerning the merits of these alternatives? Am I suffering from a bout of, or even from chronic, “fedophilia”? Might the Fed itself have purchased my apostasy?

Nothing of the sort. Although my views on the Fed, and on free banking, have changed somewhat since I first started writing on these subjects back in grad school (what sort of scholar would I be if they hadn’t?), they haven’t changed in any fundamental way. I still consider the acquiescence of economists in governments’ creation of currency monopolies to have been one of that professions’ greatest blunders; and I still favor freedom in banking, provided such freedom is understood to imply the absence, not just of extraordinary government regulations, but also of extensive government guarantees, whether explicit or implicit. Finally, I continue to oppose laws that interfere with people’s freedom to employ currencies other than the one officially sanctioned by their own government, whether those other currencies be public or private, paper or metallic or digital.

If I still believe all these things, why do I keep saying nice things about monetary rules? So what if a rule might be better than discretion, given the existence of a fiat-money issuing currency monopoly? If currency competition is better still, surely that’s what I ought to be plugging!

Court: Kentucky Print Shop Needn’t Print Messages With Which It Disagrees

On Friday a Kentucky state appeals court ruled in favor of local print shop Hands On Designs, which had declined to print t-shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival because the shop’s owners disapproved of the ideological message of the shirts. The ruling, narrower than it might be, may in the end protect the owners against this particular claim under Lexington’s ordinance barring discrimination in public accommodations. It missed the opportunity, however, to make clear—as Cato urged in its amicus brief—that laws violate the First Amendment when they force people to print or utter words in which they disbelieve.

Eugene Volokh, who with UCLA’s First Amendment Clinic wrote Cato’s amicus briefnotes that the three-judge panel split three ways in the course of not reaching the First Amendment issue. The judge who wrote the lead opinion decided that the shop hadn’t breached the terms of the law in the first place, because the ordinance did not set up any protected category based on “message or viewpoint.” (There is no guarantee that courts elsewhere will follow that logic, however, especially since some anti-discrimination statutes, like Seattle’s, do purport to set up political or ideological opinion as a protected class.)

A concurring judge also cited a second reason for the shop owners to win, namely Kentucky’s version of RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which mandates accommodation). He reasoned that the law as interpreted burdened the owners’ religious practice and had not been shown, as required, to have done all it could to minimize burdens in the course of serving a compelling purpose. Again, not all courts in future cases will follow this path; many states do not have RFRAs, and even when they do, judges may rule that a given anti-discrimination law is a closely enough tailored measure for a sufficiently compelling purpose. 

The Hands On case inevitably invites comparison with the series of high-profile cases in which small business people have faced complaints and sometimes hefty damages under state and local public-accommodation discrimination laws for turning down requests to provide supplies and services (photography, floral arrangements, hall rental, cake) for the celebration of same-sex marriages. So far, the courts have mostly been unwilling to recognize the First Amendment issues involved in these cases. That’s one thing that jumps out at you about the Lexington case: it may be a matter of dispute whether the selection of angles and moods in photography is a form of expression, but if printing an opinion on a t-shirt doesn’t count as expression, what does? One landmark Supreme Court case, Cohen v. California, in fact hinged on the status of a garment slogan as expression. And as Ilya Shapiro pointed out in this space a year and a half ago, another important First Amendment case at the Court, 1977’s Wooley v. Maynard, found it an impermissible burden for a citizen to have to put on display a state slogan—New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die”—with which he disagreed. 

Greener, Not Browner

A recent Science paper by J-F. Busteri and 30 named coauthors assisted by 239 volunteers found, looking at global drylands (about 40% of land areas fall into this category), that we had undercounted global forest cover by a whopping “at least 9%.” 239 people were required to examine over 210,000 0.5 hectare (1.2 acre) sample plots in GoogleEarth, and classify the cover as open or forested. Here’s the resultant cool map:

This has been the subject of a flood of recent stories, blog posts, tweets, and whatever concerning Bastin et al. But here at the Center for the Study of Science, we’re value added, so here’s some added value.

Last year, Zaichin Zhu and 31 coauthors published a remarkable analysis of global vegetation change since satellite sensors became operational in the late 1970s. The vast majority of the globe’s vegetated area shows greening, with 25-50% of that area showing a statistically significant change, while only 4% of the vegetated area is significantly browning. Here’s the mind-boggling map:

Trends in Leaf Area Index, 1978-2009. Positive tones are greening, negative are browning, and the dots delineate where the changes are statistically significant. There is approximately 9 times more area significantly greening up than browning down.

Trends in Leaf Area Index, 1978-2009. Positive tones are greening, negative are browning, and the dots delineate where the changes are statistically significant. There is approximately 9 times more area significantly greening up than browning down. 

Hope you’re sitting down for the money quote:

We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning). Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models show that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend…

And the other greening driver that stood out from the statistical noise was—you guessed it—climate change.

Now, just for fun, toggle back and forth between the two maps. As you can see, virtually every place where there’s newly detected forest is greening, and a large number of these are doing it in a statistically significant fashion. This may lead to a remarkable hypothesis—that one of the reasons the forested regions were undercounted in previous surveys (among other reasons) is that there wasn’t enough vegetation present to meet Bastin’s criterion for “forest,” which is greater than 10% tree cover, and carbon dioxide and global warming changed that.

References:

Bastin, F-L., et al., 2017. The extent of forest in dryland biomes. Science 356, 635-638.

Zhu, Z., et al., 2016. Greening of the earth and its drivers. Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/

NCLIMATE30004. 

Can the Iran Deal Survive?

The Iran deal is working as advertised by containing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That non-proliferation success creates a greater one: it vastly lowers the odds of a U.S. attack on Iran and pacifies relations. That’s what makes the deal anathema to those on both sides who would preserve enmity to gain in domestic political fights.

The deal’s fate may be sealed in the coming weeks. A presidential election Friday in Iran will either re-elect Hassan Rouhani, who pushed for the deal and now defends it, or replace him with a hardliner. The Trump administration recently launched a review of Iran policy and the deal, which could yield a decision to try to undermine the agreement or to truly stay in it.

Under the 2015 deal, officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in various ways and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspections in exchange for relief from some of the sanctions that the United States, the European Union, and the UN Security Council had imposed and the release of frozen funds. The deal leaves in place sanctions on Iran for human rights violations, ballistic missile development, and support for terrorist organizations. The Obama administration also dropped charges against a number of Iranian sanctions violators in exchange for Iran’s release of four American prisoners.

Last fall’s elections put the deal in peril. They matched a Republican Senate majority that had openly tried to undermine the deal’s negotiation with a militaristic president who opposed it as a candidate. Trump made typically contradictory statements about the deal in campaigning but mostly voiced hostility typical of GOP hawks. For example, he told the AIPAC convention, “My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Trump’s top foreign policy appointees seemed to share a particular hostility to Iran. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who many saw as a lone voice of foreign policy caution, had notably belligerent views on Iran, even bizarrely suggesting that it had created ISIS, despite Iran’s aide for ISIS’s opponents in Iraq and Syria.

Despite this rhetoric, neither Congress nor the administration has raced to dismantle the deal. Congressional leaders have suggested they expect to abide by it. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did join the panel’s ranking member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to introduce a bill that would heighten sanctions on Iran for missile development, support for terrorist organizations, and human rights abuses. Though adopting the bill would antagonize Iran and make it more difficult for the United States to hold up its end of the bargain, it would not directly violate its terms.

The Trump administration, thus far, has stuck with the deal, while huffing and puffing. Officials say they’ll honor its terms pending a review run by National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, who, notably, isn’t a strident proponent of confrontation with Iran, like his predecessor, General Michael Flynn. The State Department recently certified Iran’s compliance but, in the same press release, proclaimed Iran’s continued support for terrorism. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson knocked the deal for failing “to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” seemingly referring to its retention of enrichment facilities. President Trump then claimed that Iran is “not living up to the spirit of the agreement” and called it “terrible.”

These statements are a boon to Iran’s hardliners, who call the deal a capitulation to the United States, which they see as irredeemably hostile. Evidence of that hostility also comes in U.S. policy: the Corker-Menendez bill, Iran’s inclusion in the Trump administration’s legally-fraught travel ban, potentially-heightened U.S. military aid for their rival Saudi Arabia in its brutal bombing campaign in Yemen, and a likely massive arms sale to the Saudis.

The President Is Not the Commander in Chief of the United States, Nor Its CEO

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday that “the president is the CEO of the country,” and thus “he can hire and fire whoever he wants. That’s his right.” Leaving aside the question of whether the president can fire everyone in the federal government, she is wrong on her main point. The president is not the CEO of the country. He can reasonably be described as the CEO of the federal government. The Constitution provides that in the new government it establishes, “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

Meanwhile, too many people keep calling the president—this president and previous presidents—”my commander in chief” or something similar. Again it’s important for our understanding of a constitutional republic to be clear on these points. The president is the chief executive of the federal government. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces, not of the entire government and definitely not of 320 million U.S. citizens. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.

Too many people who should know better keep getting this wrong. The highly experienced former first lady, senator, secretary of state, and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for instance, who declared last year on the campaign trail, “Donald Trump simply doesn’t have the temperament to be president and commander in chief of the United States.” (She had also used the term a year earlier, and in her previous campaign she expressed a determination to be the “commander in chief of our economy,” so this wasn’t just a slip of the tongue.)

And also third-generation Navy man, senator, and presidential nominee John McCain who declared his support for President George W. Bush in 2007, saying, the Washington Post reported: “There’s only one commander in chief of the United States, and that’s George W. Bush.”

Now Donald Trump is getting the same treatment. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Daily Mail, a popular newspaper in a country still headed by a monarch, would write

President Donald Trump sent a message to ex-FBI director James Comey and his detractors as he told Liberty University graduates that ‘nothing is more pathetic than being a critic’ during his first commencement address as the commander-in-chief of the United States.

But how about Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, writing in a Capitol Hill newspaper to mock President Trump’s historical ignorance:

How apropos that this famous and very fitting quote was likely used by the Abraham Lincoln, the president who actually was the commander-in-chief of the United States when the Civil War happened.

Oops.

Why Is Insider Trading Illegal?

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the legendary baseball commissioner, once said that every boy builds a shrine to some baseball hero, and before that shrine a candle always burns. Growing up a Baltimore Orioles fan during the franchise’s glory days, my shrine had many heroes, including central figures Cal Ripken (HOF 2007), Eddie Murray (HOF 2003), and John Lowenstein. Not central but still part of the shrine was Doug DeCinces, a good glove/solid bat third baseman who manned the O’s hot corner for nine of his 15 major league seasons.

And so I was saddened to read that last Friday DeCinces was convicted of 14 charges of insider trading.

Back in 2008, his neighbor, James Mazzo, then CEO of an ophthalmic surgical supply company, told DeCinces that the firm was about to be acquired by medical giant Abbott Labs. DeCinces owned stock in the firm and purchased more after he learned of the deal. He also shared the tip (though apparently not its provenance) with some friends, including Murray. DeCinces ultimately profited about $1.3 million on the deal according to press reports.

His maneuver seems inoffensive if shrewd; after all, who wouldn’t buy something that he can then sell at a profit? That is fundamental to the marketplace, and it typically makes all participants better-off.

But in DeCinces’ case it’s a crime, and a very serious one. He can receive as much as 20 years in federal prison for each of the 14 charges he was convicted on.

The question is why. Remember that all an inside trader does is act on private information that more accurately reflects the future value of some financial asset than the current price does. He buys or sells that asset at a price that someone else voluntarily accepts. He does nothing that damages (or falsely props up) the ultimate value of the asset. Nor does he hurt the broader financial marketplace; if anything, his trading slightly pushes the asset price toward a more appropriate value.