Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

E-Verify is so popular that PolitiFact was unable to find any poll in which an "overwhelming majority of people" did not support the free online workplace verification system. Most Americans want citizens and legal immigrants already here to get priority for U.S. jobs over citizens from other countries who are in the U.S. illegally. E-Verify helps accomplish that. E-Verify has long been understood as a critical deterrent against illegal immigration.

Back in 2011, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton explained to C-SPAN's "Washington Journal":

It will be a lot harder for people to come here illegally for labor if they know that when they get here there will be an effort to verify whether or not they have employment authorization. And so, if we can create across the country a uniform effort by employers to follow the law and make sure the people that they hire are here lawfully and have work authorization we will greatly reduce the magnet for illegal labor.

A few weeks after Morton's comments, Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center told NPR:

...if you're faced with a $3,000 smuggler fee and maybe going through the desert, but won't be able to get a job here, you're much less likely to come.

Morton and Passel were echoing advice from twenty years ago, when Barbara Jordan explained to Congress why her bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform felt so strongly about a new workplace verification system (what was to become E-Verify):

You will hear testimony today about visa overstayers. You will hear that roughly one-half of the nation's illegal alien problem results from visitors who entered legally but who do not leave when their time is up. Let me tell you in three simple words why that is: they get jobs.

Jordan helped popularize the term "jobs magnet" and emphasized the centrality of workplace enforcement in an immigration system "based on and [supportive of] broad U.S. economic, social, and humanitarian interests rather than the interests of those who would abuse our immigration laws."

Barbara Jordan died in 1996 at the age of 59. In the years following her death, her vision for improvements on the paper I-9 system to enable law-abiding employers to ensure a legal workforce grew from a little-known pilot program into the E-Verify that over 600,000 companies use today to verify the work authorization of more than 25 million new hires every year. The U.S. Senate voted to extend E-Verify in 2012 with unanimous consent; the House voted 412-3 in favor.

E-Verify's detractors typically oppose the belief held by Barbara Jordan and most Americans that citizens and legal immigrants already here have a greater right to U.S. jobs than job-seekers in the country illegally. Yet they often attempt to undermine E-Verify by predicting massive job losses for American workers. Such is the case in an analysis from the Cato Institute, "Checking E-Verify The Costs and Consequences of a National Worker Screening Mandate."

Under the provocative headline "Study: E-Verify doesn't work, could put Americans out of jobs" Jason Russell of theWashington Examiner reports:

New analysis from the libertarian Cato Institute predicts disastrous consequences if E-Verify, an immigration enforcement program, is mandated for employers nationwide.

E-Verify nationwide could lead to more identity theft, make legal American workers unemployed and prompt the introduction of a nationwide identity card, according to the study.

The study, published Tuesday, was authored by Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at Cato, and Jim Harper, a senior fellow at Cato.

These are dire predictions but E-Verify is not a theory. The program has existed in one form or another for almost two decades, with tens of millions of citizen and non-citizen workers being run through the system every year. E-Verify Self-Check is available in all 50 states. Anyone can see if their records are up to date and if they are legally authorized to work in the United States before they apply for a job. The 25-million-plus workers run through E-Verify annually represent nearly half of all new hires. If mandating E-Verify for the other half would lead to "disastrous consequences," it stand to reason that we should easily be able to identify "half-disasterous consequences" right now. But the most provocative parts of the study are couched in predictions for the future, not analysis of the past or present.

Their headline-grabbing claim is that national E-Verify "could exclude hundreds of thousands of Americans from employment -- at least in the short run." Specifically, the authors predict:

If the roughly 122 million native-born employees in the United States at the end of 2014 were all run through E-Verify, between 370,000 and 1.2 million of them would be initially granted an erroneous TNC if the error rates stayed the same [as the 2010 rate]....

....According to a 2012 audit of E-Verify, 0.15 percent of all E-Verify queries analyzed were granted an erroneous FNC....

....If E-Verify were mandated nationwide and all employees had to run their information through the system, that seemingly small error rate would issue around 180,000 FNCs, keeping eligible American workers from working.

A 2012 study conducted by Westat (using data from 2010) found the tentative nonconfirmation (TNC) error rate to be 0.3 percent. The same study found that 94 percent of employees who received final non confirmations (FNCs) were given accurate notices. Westat estimated the accuracy for FNCs in FY2009 would have been 99 percent "if employers informed all workers of their TNCs and how to contest them in ways workers understood."

For reasons unexplained, Nowrasteh and Harper use 2010 data when more recent data is available. These statistics are based on E-Verify cases in Fiscal Year 2013:

  1. Total E-Verify Cases: 23,937,505
  2. 98.81 percent of employees are automatically confirmed as authorized to work ("work authorized") either instantly or within 24 hours, requiring no employee or employer action.
  3. 1.19 percent of employees receive initial system mismatches.

  • 0.22 percent of employees are confirmed as work authorized after contesting and resolving an initial mismatch.
  • 0.01 percent of employees receive initial mismatches contest the mismatch and are not found work authorized.

A tentative nonconfirmation (TNC) most often alerts the new hire to a discrepancy in their Social Security Administration or Department of Homeland Security records. These can occur, among other reasons, when someone changes their name due to marriage or when a person naturalizes their status. These errors are with SSA and/or DHS - not E-Verify - and they are better corrected sooner rather than later lest the person encounter additional problems with their records down th road. Workers are notified directly of a TNC and a further action notice guides new hires through the process of correcting a TNC. It may be a "tedious process" as Nowrasteh and Harper claim, but it is one that benefits the new hire.

The massive employment losses predicted in the report would be another matter altogether. Barbara Jordan herself said that immigration policy - including workplace enforcement - "must protect U.S. workers against unfair competition from foreign workers, with an appropriately higher level of protection to the most vulnerable in our society." Although the authors would likely argue that the U.S. has no ethical authority to protect U.S. workers against illegal immigration, their claim that E-Verify would put Americans out of work strikes at the emotional heart of Jordan's case for a mandatory workplace authorization system.

The authors predict 180,000 lost jobs for Americans should 122 million native-born workers be exposed to E-Verify. Twenty-five million new hires passed through E-Verify last year. Using the authors' error rate, we should have expected 37,000 legal workers to have lost their jobs last year alone due to E-Verify errors. Assuming they did, where are their stories? Is it possible that not one of them was able to interest even a local news station, in this economic climate, in an election year in which immigration is proving to be a top issue?

Nowrasteh and Harper base their 180,000-job-loss figure partly on the assumption that the error rate will go up as "new populations of workers" would be exposed to E-Verify but they do not point to a single example of a legal worker losing his or her job. Over one hundred million E-Verify cases have been processed since 2001. If Americans were going to lose their job by the dozens (much less tens of thousands), we would have heard about it by now.

Their analysis offers no theory on why E-Verify remains so popular despite the growing calamities the authors claim American workers are experiencing. Additionally, Nowrasteh and Harper argue that employers should be relieved of the burden of E-Verify, but employers find the system to be effective (92 percent), accurate (89 percent) and user-friendly (97 percent). E-Verify has also had a positive effect on reducing discrimination in the workplace as well, with employers reporting that "E-Verify takes the guesswork out of determining the validity of documents, provides immediate results, offers reassurance that the company is not hiring unauthorized workers, and helps them show a good faith effort to comply with the law."

According to Nowrasteh and Harper, the "the most damning indictment of E-Verify as a tool to force unlawful immigrants out of the labor market" is it's susceptibility for identity theft. The authors write that "E-Verify cannot tell the employer, for instance, that the SSN handed to him by a Hispanic job applicant in 2015 in Texas actually belongs to an 11-year old girl who died in Minnesota decades ago." To be sure, E-Verify was not created to catch identity thieves. And the authors report that "an estimated 54 percent of unauthorized workers submitted to E-Verify were incorrectly found to be work authorized because of rampant document fraud." That was the finding of a 2009 report that studied statistics from April to June of 2008. The authors present it as if it was a recent discovery applicable to 2015. Of all the actions USCIS has taken in the intervening years to protect identities and combat fraud, the authors acknowledge only a Photo-Matching Tool, which they dismiss as inadequate.They make the extraordinary claim that the photo tool and the elimination of forged documents in the U.S. are the "only two ways" to improve E-Verify's performance against identity theft.

The best solution to the identity-theft loophole can be found in the same 2009 report the authors use in their analysis. How did the study determine that 54% of illegals got through E-Verify with stolen identities between April and June of 2008? They used Social Security Administration data to see which Social Security Numbers were being used by multiple employees in different places. The truly outrageous thing about the Westat study is not that identity thieves can get through E-Verify, but rather that it proves that SSA is aiding and abetting criminals and illegal aliens by refusing to notify the victims and employers of the criminals.

The Social Security Administration could close the loophole almost entirely if it would simply notify workers with more than one employer making contributions to their social security account numbers and ask them to report if they were not actually working for each of those employers. SSA, however, has a policy of not informing the victims of identity theft. William Riley, former ICE Assistant Special Agent in Charge, explains how data sharing between the Social Security Administration and E-Verify could cut down on identity theft.

Nowrasteh and Harper do not entertain this possibility. Nor do they offer any alternatives to E-Verify or approaches to combating illegal immigration. Combating illegal immigration is not their goal. Nor is managing immigration to limit unfair competition with American workers. Nowrasteh argues for setting limits on immigration "closer to zero". Harper hopes their analysis will convince "advocates of 'internal enforcement'" to give up their misguided notions of borders and embrace "broader avenues for workers to enter the country".

Contrary to the prevailing Jordan-inspired approach to reducing illegal employment, Nowrasteh and Harper write: "E-Verify Does Not Turn Off the Jobs Magnet." They point to examples in states that have passed E-Verify laws and argue that E-Verify simply pushed unlawful immigrants into sectors of the economy that didn't use E-Verify - sometimes in different states. This would seem to be an argument for mandatory E-Verify. In explaining why E-Verify may impact unauthorized males differently than females, the authors themselves write "male unauthorized immigrants are more likely to work in construction or other sectors of the economy that cannot avoid E-Verify so easily." They allow that "Between 86,800 and 93,000 unauthorized immigrants left Arizona because of E- Verify" and acknowledge that "A nationwide E-Verify mandate may prevent unauthorized immigrants from avoiding the system by moving among states as they are currently able to do" and could convince "some" future unauthorized immigrants not to come.

The authors reject E-Verify not because it isn't good enough but because they reject the idea of most immigration restrictions and enforcement measures. Their policy analysis concludes:

Any future immigration enforcement efforts targeted at the workplace will be similarly weak because the same incentives will exist, regardless of the law. This conundrum is not unique to interior immigration enforcement, but affects all areas of regulatory enforcement, including lax border security when the U.S. economy is growing.

For the authors, less enforcement (at the work place, in the interior, and on the border) and fewer limits on immigration is the proper response to illegal immigration.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA


Updated: Wed, Jul 22nd 2015 @ 11:50am EDT

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