Controversial E-Verify system emerges in reform debate
PITTSFIELD -- Ken Nagel never considered there would be a problem hiring his daughter at one of his Phoenix restaurants, but as her information was run through E-Verify, a mandatory employment verification system, two words returned: "Tentative non-confirmation."
Her status to work at her father's restaurant was denied.
WHAT IS E-VERIFY?
The E-Verify system allows employers to electronically submit prospective workers' Social Security numbers or other information to be checked against government databases. Critics say it's error-prone because of mistakes in government records and that it has no reliable way to catch someone who is using a fraudulent Social Security number.
While mostly volunteer, except in Arizona and Mississippi where state law requires all employers to use the online database, E-Verify, which attempts to screen out undocumented workers, has been a major focus of the several legislative proposals for comprehensive immigration reform and touted by many politicians on both sides of the aisle.
For Nagel, "it was just another frustration," he told The Arizona Republic, something that if instituted would affect every American.
Despite any errors, President Barack Obama and legislators will weigh E-Verify's mandatory use nationally as debates continue and immigration proposed bills crafted this spring.
The system is taking on a new spotlight after a key negotiator said this past week that Senators working on a sweeping immigration bill will likely abandon the idea of the new high-tech ID card for workers because it's too expensive.
That means their emerging immigration legislation, which they've promised will crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, likely will seek to expand E-Verify, a little-used system criticized as error-prone and vulnerable to fraud that employers can use to check the legal status of workers, mainly using Social Security numbers.
E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
E-Verify is fast, free and easy to use -- and it's the best way employers can ensure a legal workforce. More than 409,000, or about 7 percent of, employers across the United States use E-Verify to check employment eligibility of their employees, with about 1,300 new businesses signing up each week, according to its website.
First introduced in 1997, the online employment verification system works similarly to the I-9 paper process currently instituted throughout the country, but with far faster results on a person's eligibility to work and the capabilities to match photo identification.
However for Nagel, the program certainly isn't fail-proof and questions loom about enforcement, the possibility of it being hacked or information being leaked and cost.
According to E-Verify's government audit, a national mandate would return "tentative non-confirmation" status for 1.2 million to 3.5 million legal employees like Nagel's daughter, deeming them ineligible to work until the error was corrected.
Some in Congress tout the program's success. Sorava Correa, an associate director in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, testified that E-Verify has a 99.7 percent accuracy rate for legal workers and an 94 percent accuracy rate for those who are not. But those opposed to E-Verify's use said those numbers simply aren't good enough and will cost Americans billions. A 2011 Bloomberg Government report stated a national rollout of the program would cost businesses $2.7 billion.
Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, described E-Verify as a massive hurdle for employers and employees with "enormous privacy issues."
If Senators working on an immigration reform bill do expand E-Verify, they are expected to endorse ways to make it more reliable and better at detecting ID fraud, such as by expanding the use of photo IDs in the system. For many lawmakers, especially Republicans skeptical of immigration legislation, an airtight employer verification system will be necessary for them to be able to support the bill.
"Essentially E-Verify is a giant government database with everyone's information, including passport photos, driver's license, and all of it would be accessible through the Internet," Calabrese told The Eagle.
During a Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee hearing about E-Verify's use, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., along with Randel Johnson, a senior vice president for the Chamber of Commerce, testified that the country's agricultural sector heavily relies on undocumented workers and simply imposing E-Verify on those businesses without broader reforms would cripple the industry.
Aside from the possible leak of information, small businesses would be further financially burdened by the program's implementation having to pay for training and the cost to administrate it, while also facing the possibility of losing its workforce, Calabrese said.
"This is the part of immigration reform that affects everyone," he said. "People are going to get caught up in the bureaucracy, it's inevitable. We're in favor of immigration reform, of bringing these 11 million people out of the shadows, making them part of our society, but the mandatory E-Verify system shouldn't be part of the solution."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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