Should Employers Be Required to Use E‑Verify to Avoid Hiring Undocumented Immigrants?

This article appeared in CQ Researcher on September 21, 2018.
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Americans are more concerned than ever about illegal immigration. Politicians eager to please voters are turning to E-Verify, an electronic employment eligibility program run by the federal government. E-Verify is supposed to make it impossible for illegal immigrants to get a job in the United States, but it doesn't work for three main reasons.

First, it falsely identifies some legal workers as illegal. Such errors cost businesses an average $147 each time they use the system. About 95 percent of the time, E-Verify approves workers without hassle, but the other 5 percent of checks cost employers and workers.

Second, E-Verify is expensive for businesses and workers in other ways. The official E-Verify manual for businesses is 128 pages of legalese. Even worse, an E-Verify mandate would force all workers to ask the government for permission to work. This isn't the Soviet Union. Americans should not have to ask the federal government for permission to earn a living.

Third, E-Verify doesn't effectively exclude immigrants from employment if they have entered the country illegally. An audit found that the system approved 54 percent of known illegal immigrant workers. In other words, if the government knows a worker is illegal, E-Verify is worse than a coin toss at verifying that.

E-Verify is supposed to turn off the wage magnet that draws illegal immigrants to this country in the first place. But in Arizona, E-Verify lowered the wage gains for a Mexican laborer coming to the United States from 253 percent to 240 percent, hardly a significant impact.

Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and South Carolina all require 100 percent compliance with E-Verify, but employers in those states ran only 56 percent of new hires through the system in the second quarter of last year, a percentage that hasn't gone up in years.

No matter how effective E-Verify is on paper, it cannot work if businesses don't use it. And if Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, and South Carolina can't force businesses to follow state-level E-Verify, there is no hope that a feckless Washington will do any better.

Voters want to stop illegal immigration, but E-Verify just gives politicians a way to look tough without solving the problem. There is no silver-bullet solution to illegal immigration, but E-Verify is likely to be the most expensive, least effective, and most anti-capitalist idea yet proposed.